In a recent post written about the mass shootings in America and the escalation of violence in our country, I wrote that every time there is a shooting those who are leaders—mayors, police chiefs, governors, all the way up to the President of the United States say: “This is enough —this must stop.” But it does not stop—-and it won’t stop until there is a sea-change in our culture. What might that cultural change look like? I’d like for you to think about that with me today….
One of the major changes must be in how we define success. WE MUST HAVE A NEW DEFINTION OF SUCCESS.
Our current culture defines success as power. It scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. It rejects all human vulnerability and seeks dominance instead. Our definition and image of success is POWER. Our political leaders in the current election are seeking to project a strong, secure, invulnerable image of power and control. Dominance is what the American people are demanding and what Trump is exploiting when he calls for “making America great again.”
What is the change in definition of success that we need? It is found in the Gospel—the good news that Jesus brought, taught, and modeled for the world through his life and ministry. We have thoroughly missed the gospel message about the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought as seen, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (cf Matthew 6 and 7). He brought his message to a culture like ours that was dominated by Rome. The Romans worshiped power and maintained their power with the sword and with fear. They punished those who rebelled against them by hanging them on crosses for days until they died by sword. They called Caesar their god and among the gods they worshiped were Jupiter—the god of the thunderbolt and Mars, the god of war. Into this harsh and fearful world Jesus brought a different way to live as a society.
The Sermon on the Mount praises those who his society looked down on. “Blessed are the Poor” he taught—not the rich but those on the bottom of the social ladder. “Blessed are the Meek”—not the strong and powerful but those who are weak and vulnerable. “Blessed are the merciful” —those who show mercy to the poor and vulnerable rather than trampling them under foot. “Blessed are the peacemakers”—not the generals who wage war but those who seek peace over the destructiveness of war and strife in society. “You have heard that it was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you; Do not resist an evildoer If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.’ ” You have heard that it was said ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say go you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.
This is a completely different way of living and turns strength and domination way on its head. It is a sea change in the status quo. True success would be a nation where poverty ceases to exist; where there are no children going to bed hungry; where people receive adequate medical care as needed; where laws are passed to benefit the common good and not just the few who are rich; where civility is practiced and people listen to each other; where color of skin and language spoken and religion practiced make no difference; where those who lead are servants of all and people are honored for strength of character and not for the money they make or the power they have; where love and compassion are freely practiced; and where people help others rather than scorn their helplessness.
We today have thoroughly missed the point as did Jesus’ followers . That is why Jesus says in Matthew 21:31 that “prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors (hated in Jesus’ time) are getting into the Kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders.”
This is not an easy prescription to heal a hurting and hostile world. It will be achieved gradually and only as we turn to God for God’s strength and aid. Jesus warned his disciples of the difficulty of the changes needed to live in the Kingdom of God on earth when he said “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and many take it, For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and few there there are who find it”. But Jesus also told his disciples “with God, nothing is impossible.”