Our attempts to avoid or ignore the beggars at our gate put us in the uncomfortable position of the rich man in Jesus’ apocryphal story about the rich man and Lazarus. But we miss the point if we think it’s about the afterlife; “the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven.” Instead it’s about our belief that our wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, while we conveniently ignore the social structures that dictate wealth for some and poverty for others.
Our call to be peacemakers begins with inner peace rooted with spiritual virtues such as gentleness and freedom from anxiety. Jesus teaches us to not retaliate and to even love our enemies. Loving my enemies is about my actions, not about warm fuzzy feelings. We can learn a lot about how to love enemies from our 16th century Anabaptist spiritual ancestors and how they responded to the social and spiritual crisis of their time. Our call to be peacemakers, in turn is about putting this into action in the religious, social, and environmental crisis of our time.
Playing with children in games like hide-and-seek reveals the joy of seeking and being found. Jesus’ stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin, likewise, demonstrate the joy of being found as our true selves by our gracious God. Furthermore, Psalm 51 looks beyond our preoccupation with failure and guilt to lay hold of the marvelous possibilities of God’s grace. This is true even in the depths of human sin such as the rumblings of nationalism in our day. We can be liberated and live by love.
As we move closer to retirement, my wife Ruth and I are planning our energy efficient, aging-in-place retirement house. We’re in the midst of counting the costs as we work with an architect to design our house and a builder who is helping us crunch the numbers. Jesus tells his would be followers to count the cost as he begins his journey to Jerusalem. This is much more than a parade and it will cost everything. That’s true for anything that you and I selflessly give our hearts, souls, and minds to. I must give it everything I have and it in turn redefines who I am.
In the traditional Mennonite community of my youth, humility was a prized virtue and “Hochmut” (pride) was a grievous sin. Likewise rabbi Shai Held explains that pride and arrogance are at the root of social oppression and inequality. Who is invited to dinner and the giving and receiving of gifts go to the heart of the matter. That’s why Jesus tells us to take a lesser seat at the table when we are being hosted. And in turn, when we are the host, we should invite those who are unable to pay us back.