how to live in Rome

Born into a world so much like ours, Jesus came. 

Controlled by the military-industrial complex, a violent, selfish oligarchy, with countless numbers of people enslaved to the system, barely surviving, living under laws that elevated the few and oppressed the many.

Trajan's Market, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

Trajan's Market, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

Born off in a tiny, unimportant corner of that massive empire, Jesus came.

He blessed instead of cursing.

Loved instead of hating.

Included instead of excluding.

Turned the other cheek instead of promoting violence.

Jesus walked out this radical Love-life to such an extent that the Jewish fishermen who walked with him GOT IT.

They became people who tore religious walls down.

Dietary laws, gone.

Separation of races, erased.

Circumcision, eradicated.

People whose bible clearly told them that they were the one and only special people of God, required to be separate from their spiritual inferiors? 

They came to write these words:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

HE is our Peace, who has broken down every wall.  Ephesians 2:14

THAT is the miracle of Jesus, this counter-cultural Way.

And that is the miracle that each of us can effect in our Rome today, because we are branches of that Vine.

No matter how much we are told

to exclude,

to return evil for evil,

to buy more guns so we can kill each other if need be,

we all have the choice to follow Jesus.

To follow Jesus,

instead.

Into a faith that is not about our own protection, ego, power, dominance, or control,

but about the Way of radical Love

and radical inclusion.

Sitting with the suffering.

Standing with the marginalized.

Supporting the wounded and weary.

Healing the hurting.

Inviting the ostracized.

No turning back, no turning back.

The Vatican, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

The Vatican, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

I could end this blog post here, on that inspirational note.

But this is a week that requires deeper honesty, I believe.

This is a week where easy, inspirational answers are inadequate.

And on weeks like this, we have to admit:

The Way of Jesus feels like nothing some days. 

It feels like powerlessness, it feels like losing.

And I think that's why we don't want to follow the Way of Jesus.

I think that's why the Devil's path sounds so much better:  "Fall down and worship me," he says, "And I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world."

The kingdoms of the world are a way better deal than losing all the time.

So we took the Devil's bargain, and here we sit, in this "Christian nation," littered with the bloody bodies of the dead, the suffering, the wounded: the whole world gained for rich, white men.

And our souls lost in the process.

Funny how the words of Jesus so often turn out to be true.

We can see it on the big screen of our nation today, the consequences of religion lusting for power.

But we all do it on our own personal micro-level all the time: we get tired of the long, hard work of Love.  We want the easy way out and the quick fix of control.  Our ego wants to be stroked with success and approval and comfort and excess.

We find ourselves far away from home, lost, and on a road to nowhere, and we always have this choice:  TURN BACK TO LOVE.

Do justice.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly.

This, I think, is what Jesus came here to show us:

how to turn to Love, even though you're living under Roman rule,

how to be loved even though you'll never be perfect,

how to extend Love to others even though they aren't perfect,

how to shine like lights, even though the world is dark,

and, yes, often full of terrors.

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