Note: The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent The K.I.N.G. Movement or its supporters. They are the views of the author alone.
I can’t help but to be reminded of the history of the United States. We have accomplished such great feats that in many regards we can boast and say we are the greatest nation on earth. As a result, many Americans possess a healthy sense of pride about their nation. However, we must not forget the cost of what made America great. Are the values of 21st century America synonymous with the values of the Kingdom of Heaven? What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and how does it differ from being a citizen of 21st century America?
Later this month we will inaugurate our 45th President, Donald J. Trump. With Trump’s ascent to the Presidency, I can foresee ways the American people may profit from having a businessman as President. Perhaps he will be able to cut our multi-trillion dollar deficit. Perhaps he will be able to bring some form of prosperity to American citizens. Yes all of this is great and it is very much needed in our American economy. However, we Americans must rid ourselves of the naivety of our ascent to power. It has all come at a cost; the greatest of which has always been the exploitation of the weak.
As I reflect on this past Thanksgiving, I remember those positive thinkers who sprinkled our feeds with posts about those things we should be grateful for. I applaud them for their optimism, I too took time that week to thank God for the things I am grateful for. However, in the same feed we witnessed those posts that were on the opposite end of the spectrum; those who wanted to remind us of the original context of Thanksgiving. They reminded us that although there were good Samaritans in the story - namely the Native Americans - those same Native Americans experienced genocide at the hands of the very European immigrants they were seeking to help. By and large, Native Americans have been wiped from the geographical map of the United States, only to be survived by a few who can trace their bloodline to them and also those who remain in reservations. How did this happen? We must never forget what greed and thirst for power will always produce: the destruction of the vulnerable. In my previous posts “Hope for a Racially Divided America,” Parts 1 and 2, I described the ways in which Jesus and Paul both fought for those in their society who were considered outcasts. There is nothing inherently wrong or evil about power. However, power itself is not what is in question. What is in question is our thirst for it and what we do with the power we posses. Will we use this power to further our prowess at the expense of the vulnerable? Or will we use this power to be champions for the disenfranchised?
At the heart of the Native American genocide and at the heart of our thirst for power is a value that we highly esteem in the United States: greed. We may disguise greed with words like “ambition” and “drive,’’ but in reality it is simply greed. Greed seeks power at any cost, even at the cost of people's lives. My fear is that we Americans are so concerned about deals that would save us a buck that we seek them at the expense of the weak. Our capitalism is designed for this style of competition, the kind that resembles a Darwinian survival of the fittest where the winners gain the prize and the losers lose it all, even if it means their livelihood. As we clamor towards the financial top, hundreds are crushed right in front of us. All in the name of ambition, drive and competition. The question remains, as we seek financial prosperity will we pay attention to the growing racism that is thriving in our country? Will we pay attention to the thousands of minorities who are mass incarcerated? Will we pay attention to the thousands of Latino children who will be ripped away from their parents as immigration officials deport thousands of parents with no consideration for the vulnerable children left behind?
We may not prioritize the lives of the vulnerable and the disenfranchised in American society, but these are chief concerns in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus hoped to create a society that would champion the causes of the disenfranchised at whatever cost. Matthew 5 delineates the vision of this society. Jesus states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5.7).” The context informs us that the one who is blessed is the one who shows mercy to the person who is in need. This verse is an allusion to Proverbs 14:20-21, which states, “A poor person is disliked even by his neighbors, but those who love the rich are many. The one who despises his neighbor sins, but whoever is kind to the needy is blessed.”
Jesus desired to create a community of people that would be kind to those in need. Jesus desired that the Christian community would be a community that would be called blessed because it actively looked for those who are poor and disenfranchised and alleviates their pain. In return for their mercy to the poor, God would take care of all of their needs. Verses 9 and 10 provide for us with a wonderful depiction of the way we should do this. Jesus first states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God (v.9).” But then he states, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs (v.10).” Jesus makes clear that his movement would be a peaceful movement. He makes clear that although his movement would be infused with power from heaven this power was not to be displayed by violence. Instead this power was to be displayed by courage. Verse 10 is all about this courage, the courage to be those who stand up for the voiceless. The courage to place oneself on the line for others, no matter what personal cost they may suffer for it. In verse 10 the word “justice” is almost always translated righteousness.
The word (righteousness) is better translated “justice" to render “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice, for theirs is the kingdom of God." Jesus here is expressing his manifesto: the handbook for his community. Christians should be a people who hunger and thirst to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
This word can either be translated “righteousness” or “justice.” The translators chose to translate the word as “righteousness” because they are inclined to believe that Jesus is speaking of personal virtue. However, this is hardly the case. Instead, Jesus is speaking of a people who would extend their hand to the poor, and stand in the line of fire if they have to. The word is better translated “justice.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Jesus here is expressing his manifesto: the handbook for his community. Christians should be a people who hunger and thirst to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Christians should be champions of justice. Jesus longed for a society that would bring these principles of the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth at whatever cost. Where is this kind of thirst for justice in our society? Where is Jesus’ manifesto in American society? Is it even here?
Although there are occasions when American culture may line up with the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, American culture and the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven are two different things. They possess two different sets of values. One is focused on prosperity and competition while the other is focused on the care of others and the binding of the wounds of the broken. We must not get the two confused. As Christians we are first called to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to champion its causes. The question remains: will we?
As hopes for a more prosperous America are on the horizon, we must never forget the causes of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must never forget that the immigrants who are here are human beings -human beings worthy of dignity. We must never forget that we are called to be one people and that the ideology of one race’s superiority over another is incongruent with the ethos of the Kingdom of Heaven. May we remember that caring for others is more important than our thirst for power and prosperity. May we remember that we are called to champion the cause of the vulnerable and the weak. May we never forget that we are first citizens of Heaven before we are citizens of any nation. When we champion the cause of the poor and fight for the rights of the needy then we will bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth and create the society that Jesus longs to see.
Born and raised in Harlem, NYC, Jensy Acosta has served as Associate Pastor at Trinity Church Harlem and has also served as an adjunct professor of The New Testament at Nyack College. He holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. With a fervent passion towards the perennial guidance provided by The Bible, he believes it is instrumental and vital in the 21st Century. On days off, he enjoys relaxing and watching a good superhero movie.