O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.
Blood, the old saying goes, is thicker than water. It’s an old slam against Christians – who are just as human as anyone else: the water in question is found in the Baptismal Font. But often, when in a tight space, a Christian, just as much as anyone else, will “stick to his own kind, one of his own kind”. If you’re at all familiar with Christians on the internet, you see it all the time: we’ll stand with “our own kind” over Brother Christians almost any day.
And our own kind – our blood – is measured in race, or sexuality, in nationality, although sometimes we dress it up as “religion”: A “Christian Civilization” as against “Arabs” or Muslims. We ignore that there are Christians there too – because religion is just one of our things to cover the blood issue. Blood is thicker than water, after all. In extremes, this turns in to White Supremacists (who even steal an image of the Crucifixion for their propaganda about “White Man Crucified”), but we do it all the time: any time there is an “us” versus a “them”, an “in group” versus an “out group”, we’re saying blood is thicker than water. Gangs, fraternities, alma maters with historic grudge matches, Yankees and Confederates, Communists and Capitalists, race, nationality, even sex becomes a division in the body of Christ.
Before I go any further, this is not an appeal to moral relativism: it is possible to be right or wrong. Nor is it an appeal to a false Ecumenism: Jesus, himself, said, “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ are mine”. Rather it is an appeal to recognize Jesus’ supremacy over all the powers of our world. It is possible to be either inside or outside of Jesus’ posse: but the response to finding someone outside the posse is evangelism, not hatred.
All the powers – the bloods – of humanity are in one of two toggled positions: either bringing people together under Christ, or else bringing people together apart from Christ. That coming together apart from Christ can look so very much like Christians that we get side tracked into not seeing the bad stuff. How many Christian groups get all interfaith warm and cuddly without trying to preach the Gospel?
One of the Great Miracles of Christmas is how God arranged the world. The Fathers of the Church, and also our liturgy, praise the Pax Romana, the peace enjoyed by so much of the known world at that time because of Rome’s political and military hegemony. It was all for Rome’s own purposes, of course: draining the world of resources and making Rome wealthy; but it held the world in peace so that the Gospel could be spread. There was a common language, a common cultural understanding – even among different races and tribes – that made it so easy for the early Church to grow. Compare this to other modern political “unifications” that only force people together without any sense of peace, that often play both ends against the middle to keep all the people arguing and allow an elite group to remain in power, as often the British did in their empire and colonies. (And African Proverb runs, “If you pass a pond and two fish are fighting, you know the British have been there.”) We are still cleaning up those messes in Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland. Rome was a pagan empire used by God. England not hardly at all – though it was Christian in name. The same is true of any other “empire” in your life.
Have you ever seen an Empire on parade like on Gay Pride Day? Or have you seen the blood feuds of Europe carried over into American meeting halls and St Patrick’s Day Parades? It is recorded that when the Saxons first came to England, the Celts refused to send them clergy to teach them the Gospel simply because they were Saxons. Red gangs versus Blue gangs, Nortenos vs Surenos, the list goes on and on.
At several points in my life I wanted to “bring my colors” into Church. Have you heard about the people who try to wear rainbow sashes to communion? Once upon a time that was me – although we didn’t do sashes back in the day. It’s not enough to stand before God at his Altar: I needed to bring my own kingdom with me. I wanted a church that was “Gay Friendly” without ever asking if I was being Christ Friendly.
I’m not alone there, bringing my flag. I know about controversies over General Lee’s battle flag being flown at his own parish in Virginia, but what about all those churches with US flags in them – no less a symbol of division and hate to many? Or Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) here in San Francisco, which is decked out in so very many Union Jacks and Royal Standards as to make one think one is in Londonderry just after Marching Season.
And I don’t need to point out that the Monarchs of England (and other places, like Russia, Serbia, Greece) enjoy status as Church functionaries too.
The antiphon today calls Jesus an “ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence.” This is not an Republican cry against Monarchism. Jesus is not here to free us from the oppression of monarchies, or to give us monarchies to free us from the Majority Tyrannies of the mob. Jesus – contrary to almost every thing the Secular Left and the Secular Right (through their dupes in the Church) say – had no political agenda. He didn’t “liberate” anyone or preach liberation of any kind. He was not a pacifist, but neither did he get into the political squabbles of his day. The Jews erroneously expected their Messiah to to come and liberate them from Rome. Christians today, no less erroneously, expect Jesus to liberate us from Big Gov’t, from Sexism and Homophobia, from racism, from war. He’s not come to solve the problem of Islamic Extremism or the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Jesus makes all those things shut up – not go away. Makes them be silent in your heart by virtue of your having entered into his kingdom.
And in the silence, you can be saved.
O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
The problem with every “Us/Them” division is that the people on “the other side” are no less icons of the Living God, no less in need of grace, no less worthy of heaven than the people on “our side”. Gospel was needed in the Concentration Camps of Germany: by both the inmates and the Nazis. Salvation was needed in the Soviet Gulags no less by the prisoners than by the guards. the Gospel in America is needed by the KKK and the poor whites whom they brain wash just as much as by the poor blacks that they bully and kill. Jesus is needed both by the Stupid Party and by the Evil party – apply those labels any way you wish. It works. Any tyranny of division is Satan’s own. Yes, there are lines and borders and even language and race divides us, however any failure to see “them” as God’s children needed the Grace of Jesus is caused not by the reality of the situation, but by Satan.
Again, this is not an appeal to amorality, or to any false union for becoming Christian means leaving idolatry behind, be it of states, sodomy, or sola scriptura. But we are called to bring the Gospel to all, and to avoid the luxury of human enemies. All us and them is just you and me and I can not be saved without you. Blood may be thicker than water, at least in viscosity and specific gravity, but just as our baptism makes us one in Christ, so our common humanity makes us one before God’s throne. In the final accounting no one in the Church will be allowed to say “Those people were not fully human, so we didn’t bother bringing the Gospel to them.”
And by bringing the Gospel: which means preaching and living it we are saved.