How do we live lives that become the gospel? Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, martyred while celebrating Eucharist in a hospital chapel. Martyred because he spoke out against an oppressive and brutal government.
We don’t live lives that become the gospel by complaining that we are “oppressed” when, financially able to have health care, we seek to deny such coverage for those unable to afford it.
We don’t live lives that become the gospel by the name-calling of those with whom we disagree or by supporting media figures who engage in such behavior.
We don’t live lives that become the gospel by consuming more resources than we need and supporting with our purchasing power the oppression of others who are trapped in unsafe, exploitative jobs.
During Lent, I’ve been part of a study of the book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, by Michael Gorman. The book asserts that Paul’s theology is shaped by the pattern of Jesus’ death on the cross, and that such a pattern not only tells us about Jesus, but also God. Philippians 2:5-11 offers us a picture of Jesus’ faithfulness and a picture of God’s sacrificial love for us.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. (MSG)
What would happen if we thought of ourselves in this self-emptying, self-sacrificial way? How would we treat others, even those who inflict violence on us? If we follow the pattern of Jesus, we would not repay violence with violence. Instead we would absorb the violence of others. As Gorman asserts, the power of God in Christ is power in weakness. It is a nonretaliatory, nonviolent power. It is not the way of name-calling, overconsumption or self-preservation.
We have to be careful in our culture of individualism to not be blinded by cultural values that do not follow the pattern given us in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. We have to exercise caution that we do not rationalize our affluence by saying we can do good for others, while surrounding ourselves with things we don’t need and throwing our crumbs to those who have real needs.
The gospel is good news for all. For that to happen we have to empty ourselves for the sake of others. We are called to pour ourselves out, not cautiously cling to our privilege. Archbishop Romero realized that his outspokenness might result in his death. He spoke out anyway. May his faith and courage inspire us to do likewise, and truly live lives that become the gospel.