Jesus told his followers: “Be in the world, but not of the world.” Lately, as a church, we haven’t fared too badly in doing that. Since Vatican II we have, more and more, been in the world and, to some extent at least, we have managed to give it a challenge. Where we have failed more is that we have not been enough for the world.
Simply put, we do not love the world enough and it is for this reason, perhaps more than for any other, that the world is not interested in our challenge. Christ said: “My flesh is food for the life of the world.” The church exists for the world. Its life must be for the world and its love must be for the world. Today, in virtually all church circles, liberal and conservative alike, there is too little real love for the world and the church life that is generated is essentially food for the life of our own circles and not food for the life of the world.
Looking at what emanates out of conservative circles, one is at loss to find much love for the world. Too often, in conservative eyes, the world is a huge cesspool of sexual immorality. The conservative looks at the world’s sufferings here – the outbreak of AIDS and the omnipresence of so much pain because of sexual irresponsibility and fractured relationships- and there is a certain glee, which is sometimes not even disguised, that this bad, disobedient world is getting what it deserves. The rhetoric of compassion is there (and sometimes even that is not there) but real compassion is not: “The world is getting what it deserves and we, who have stayed on the straight and narrow, are vindicated!”
But liberal circles do not exactly radiate real love for the world either, despite their claim that they are the great defenders of the suffering. Where the conservative sees a great cesspool of sexual immorality the liberal sees an enormous cesspool of Yuppie values and bourgeois selfishness. The liberal looks at the world’s sufferings here – the disarray of capitalism and the incapacity of Western governments to do much about it – and there is the same barely disguised glee that this bad, capitalistic world is getting its just desserts. Like their conservative counterparts, liberals use a certain rhetoric of compassion, but not enough people in the world feel loved by them – especially if those people are conservative in their economics, sexual values, or in most anything else.
There is a famous story, more myth than fact perhaps, told about a former mayor of New York city: Everyone is familiar with the seemingly insoluble problems that confront New York City – its ghettos, its rate of crime, its congestion, its debt, its traffic, among other things. Well, this story has it that one Friday afternoon, just at rush hour, its mayor (and this story is told about Mayor Lindsey) was up in a helicopter with some of his councillors. He looked down at all the noise, the congestion, and the seeming chaos of it all and, tongue in cheek, remarked: “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a plunger and we could just flush this all into the ocean!”
He was joking, of course, but there is something in our attitude towards the world that is caught by that remark. Too often, in truth, that is how we feel. Be it ever so subtle, there is something inside of us, liberal and conservative alike, that wants to say: “Won’t it be nice if we could flush this all (or at least the parts we don’t like) down the toilet!”
How contrary to the attitude of Christ! He looked at Jerusalem, at its chaos, at its hopelessness, at those very parts that opposed him and his mission, and he began to cry over it, tenderly empathizing with it because could not recognize salvation. His was not the glee of the one whose truth has been rejected and who now stands vindicated because those who rejected it have fallen flat on their faces – “There! Now you know! You should have listened to me!” Rather his was the pain of the loving mother who sees her family falling apart and who then lays herself out – body, heart, soul, mind, life, everything – so that the family might come back together. Christ was for the world in that sense and we should be most careful when we mandate ourselves in his name to be “counter-cultural”.
The world is not listening to us. To my mind, the main reason is because it does not feel loved by us. It does not sense that our life and our love are food that we want to offer to it. Instead it feels itself judged by us and it senses our glee when it falls flat on its face. It is time that we all spent a night or two on a hill overlooking the city we live in – weeping tears of love for those who are not interested in our message.