Rights are a beautiful thing.
But what if clinging to those rights puts you in opposition to the way of Jesus?
And what if the very one you call Lord is asking you to lay them down for the sake of others?
Born in the USA
I was born and raised in the USA (quick nod to Bruce Springsteen).
I love so much about my national heritage and ideals. So before misjudging me as unpatriotic, communist, or something else unwarranted, let me just say that I have much to appreciate about the United States of America.
Because of western democracies like the US, many people both in our country and abroad experience a meaningful sense of human dignity, social and economic opportunity, and many of the freedoms Americans hold dear (speech, inquiry and religious expression).
And this just a short list.
The funny thing about “rights”
If there is anything “American” about being a citizen of the United States it’s our almost innate and impulsive ability to declare what our rights are when it appears like they are being threatened.
It seems that more now than ever in our country’s history, citizens (or those on the path of citizenship) are willing to assert their rights when people in power, whether the government, law enforcement or religious clergy, try to take them away or hinder them.
And there’s a part of me that says, “go for it.”
People in power should be held accountable for their actions and it seems that all too often they get away with things ordinary citizens don’t get away with.
So asserting one’s rights is something I value.
And yet, the more time I invest in following the way of Jesus, the more I am confronted with rethinking the way I approach asserting those rights.
Asserting one’s rights seems to be completely absent from Jesus’s mission and teaching.
Come and die: Discipleship 101
When it comes to Jesus, he said things that don’t sound very “Christian” (at least by today’s standards) or for that matter “American.”
When he invited his first disciples to follow him, he basically asked them to drop everything they were currently doing, follow him and be part of his mission.
He didn’t stop to ask them what their dreams were first to see if they fit in to his mission.
He didn’t even tell them how long they could expect his mission to last.
He definitely didn’t talk it up by painting a glowing picture to get some more buy in (like many of today’s preachers do).
In fact, if anything the picture he painted was quite the opposite. It involved the very likelihood of suffering, persecution and death. So much for today’s very popular prosperity gospel.
In this world you will have hard times.
Blessed are you who are persecuted.
Whoever wants to be first, needs to learn how to be last.
If you lose your life for my sake and the good news, you will find it.
Whoever wants to follow me, they will need to take up their cross.
So following Jesus meant getting into some hard times, losing one’s social status, potential persecution and death… and all for the sake of following the way of Jesus.
Sign me up!!!
Consider others better than yourselves: Discipleship 102
It gets even better. Paul, in his New Testament letters, takes this teaching of Jesus and applies it to the mundane spaces of ordinary day-to-day life.
Consider others better than yourselves.
Not only is following Jesus about being willing to suffer and die and losing your social status, but Jesus (Paul says) wants us to humble ourselves to the point where we are actively treating others as if they are more important than ourselves.
At one level, this may sound like asking too much.
But somehow, Paul tells us, that by learning to defer to others, by learning how to bless others at our expense, somehow the mystery of Jesus’s cross is expressed in (and through) our lives.
According to Paul, following Jesus had to do with laying down our rights (whether actual or perceived) so that others could benefit.
The right to live for the benefit of others
I have to be honest.
This is not the Christianity I learned growing up.
And this is not what being an American is all about either.
Listen, rights are a beautiful thing and I’m glad I have them (aren’t you?).
At the same time, following Jesus and his way of life means learning to put aside my perceived need to assert my rights and even laying down those rights for the sake of others.
This sounds crazy, counter-intuitive and non-American for sure.
But as far as I know, this is the very kind of life Jesus invites us into.
For me, this does not somehow mean individual (including equal) rights are not important or that there isn’t a place to ever assert them, but it does mean that the way of Jesus invites me to practice giving up my rights as a way of life (including perceived rights, needs and wants) so that others can benefit.