“My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man. It’s not to democracy or blood. It’s to a king and a kingdom.” Derek Webb
I’m a proud Puerto Rican. Some of you thought I was Mexican by looking at my profile picture…and that’s okay. Because I’m also proud to be a Latino and I love my Mexican brothers.
At least once a month someone assumes that I’m a Muslim Arab. They give me a nod and say, “Salam Alaikum” (Peace be unto you) and with joy I reply, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” (And unto you, peace). Then I explain to them that I’m not from Jordan but born and raised in San Juan.
I carry a US passport. My great-grandparents became American citizens in 1917 through the Jones-Shafroth Act, and now I get to live and vote in America.
I’m also married to what could be the whitest person you have ever seen. My gorgeous wife, Catherine Rachel, was born and raised in England and is pure Anglo-Saxon (with no traces in her family tree but pure Anglo-Saxon). That’s probably why my sons are the two whitest-looking kids in our church. Half-British, half-Puerto-Rican, bilinguals, and raised in the U.S.A.
As a family, we are adopting an African daughter. Our Ethiopian princess is (and will be) black and proud. We will raise her to love her culture, speak her native tongue, and add her flare to our United Nations dinner table.
As Father Gregory Boyle says, “There is no us and them, there’s just us.”
Welcome to the ministry of reconciliation.
It is yours in this lifetime, according to 2 Corinthians 5.
It’s the breaking down of the walls of hostility that Paul talks about in Galatians 2.
It’s the multicolored wisdom of God, expressed in a multicolored people.
And if the people of God would have accepted this invitation, then there would be more Samaritans alive today.
I say this because during the time of Jesus, they were a people despised. And as of January 1, 2015, the living population of Samaritans in the world is 777.160 They have been decimated because for so long they were considered a lesser race, a lesser religion, and a lesser group of people. But Jesus engaged them continually with honor.
In Luke 10:25 an expert in the law stood up and tested Jesus (bad idea). He said to Him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” or in other words, “What can I do to go to heaven?”
In verse 26, and in full Jesus style, He replied to his question with two questions:
1. “What is written in the Law?” (Tell me what you know.)
2. “How do you read it?” (Tell me how you interpret it.)
In verse 27, the lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
In verse 28, the Word of God said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But the man, desiring to justify himself (bad idea again) asked Jesus in verse 29, “Who is my neighbor?” or, in other words, “Who shall I stand with? And where do I draw the line?”
Jesus replies with a parable; a story that was intended (in love) to offend the mind in order to reveal the heart.
And this is what The Way, the Truth, and the Life said,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Notice how hard it was for the lawyer to admit something good about the Samaritan and answer with the actual words, “The Samaritan.”
Notice also how Jesus told him to be like The Samaritan he could not even acknowledge.
This parable would have been challenging enough for the lawyer if the Samaritan was the one beaten up on the side of the road and all Jesus was asking him to do was help the poor bastard. However, He used that example not just to say, be kind to your despised neighbor, but also to say, learn from them!
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached on this verse the day before he died, “And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
Can we ask this again, “What will happen to the undocumented worker from Central American if we don’t stop to help them? What will happen to the hordes of refugees in the Middle East if we don’t stop to help them? What will happen to the homeless veterans if we don’t stop to help them?”
And even more than that, we need to ask, “How can we relate to them so we can learn from them?”
This is humility personified.
I believe it to be a good thing to cherish the land God blessed us with. We need to appreciate our culture, learn our history, and respect our people. But Jesus couldn’t care less about our patriotism—the whole point of the gospel was to include everyone. It’s the original promise to Abraham, “Through you all peoples on earth will be blessed.”
That includes communists and Iranians, the Muslims and the French, and even us Puerto Ricans! In His eyes, every country is the greatest country; every person is His favorite person. At the cross, we all become His number ones, and no matter your nationality, color, religion, politics, or hairstyle, you have been loved into the greatest family.
Nationalism is a deceiving evil that needs to be confronted as a deceiving evil. Sure, it works for history books and competitive Olympic games, but it does not work for making disciples of all nations. It does not fit the picture of Revelation: “An eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
We can’t be the bride of Christ and concubines of Caesar. We can’t choose the empires of this world and the ways of His kingdom. We can’t prioritize a superpower over God’s humility and fire. As Stanley Hauerwas wrote,
“The church is constituted as a new people who have been gathered from the nations to remind the world that we are in fact one people.”
A few years before moving from Puerto Rico to Raleigh, I visited a church in Pasadena, California. The people in attendance had a sincere desire for the things of God. The speakers at the conference were full of wisdom and humility, but I just could not get over the one-million- dollar chandelier in the foyer. Every time I walked in the building, that monstrosity of greed looked at me and mocked me. Note that it was not the current church that had spent the money putting the chandelier there. It was a cult with a following of a few hundred thousand people that previously in habited the auditorium, which had been part of their headquarters before their leader surrendered his life to Jesus. The building ended up in the hands of the current church family (which is a cool story for another day).
But I sounded like Judas every time I walked in the foyer, “This could have been sold at a high price and given to the poor!”
And you know what? Both Judas and I were right. But saying the right thing with the wrong heart automatically makes it the wrong thing. So once again, God challenged my attitude. Not because He’s a nitpicker, more because He’s a good Father, and good fathers discipline their children.
I was on the floor in a moment of worship, pretending to be holier than others, when the Lord asked me, “Will you give your life for the USA?”
“God,” I said, while looking up to the ceiling confused, “You know I’ve been called to Africa, to Latin America, and to the poorest of the poor. Why would I ever give my life for America?”
He replied, “Why would I send you to Africa and Latin America, which you are naturally inclined to glorify, and not bring you to the US, which you are naturally inclined to criticize?”
“I get that, God,” I replied. “But do You really have to answer every question with a question?” and, “Is this even You talking? I might be going crazy.”
Still, I knew that if I was going crazy, it was the right kind of crazy.
That day I discovered one of my life mottos, via the great Henri Nouwen:
“For [Jesus] there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, and no people to be dominated. There are only children, woman, and men to be loved.”
I knew right then and there that it was for me to live in America, and for me to preach to the American church. Today, some of my best friends, my favorite TV shows, and my greatest influencers come from this glorious land. It has been eight years of following the advice from the apostle Paul when he said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
It has also been eight years of realizing that I have been called to challenge the nationalism in America, while also letting America challenge the nationalist in me.
These wonderful people have so much to give to me and I have so much to learn from them. Being aware of things that need correcting doesn’t automatically turn us into the correctors… most of the time, as the American evangelist Billy Graham was quoted as saying:
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”
Let the loving continue.
Admitting that we are lost is the first step to embracing the rescue of Jesus. And for us here in America, Canada, and the UK, admitting that Western Christianity has made us captives to our nationalism will help us rediscover the Christ that saves Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and Christians with the same love and conviction.
As Paul warned the people in the capital city of the Roman Empire, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
The doctrine taught by Paul was one of inclusion; of accepting the Gentiles as people grafted into the vine. In turn, we need to avoid the natural inclination to value our ethnicity above others. We need to avoid the obstacles created by nationalistic rhetoric and an overpowering perspective —because the most ridiculous thing we could do would be to utilize a faith that included us Gentiles as a tool to treat others like uninvited non-members.
That would be a direct contradiction to the message that reached us.
So let the loving continue.