If The Rich and Powerful Were Like God

In election campaigns, it is often the rich who run for office, and they often claim they will do things that will favor the working poor.  Certainly a concern for the poor is something America learned through Christianity.  Who among the rich and powerful will most help the poor is always part of the election debate.   Historian Peter Brown summing up Christian attitudes of leaders for the poor in the later Roman Empire offers a different way to measure the concern of the rich and powerful for the working poor.  Christianity certainly proclaims and believes that God loves the poor, and that we are to imitate Christ.  So what if the rich and powerful would imitate God, what would their concern for the poor then look like?  Brown answers:

“If the rich and powerful were ‘like God’ to the poor, then they must learn to be like a God who had opened himself up entirely to human suffering and who was ‘naturally’ capable of compassion for fellow human beings. They must show the same degree of condescension and of fellow feeling for the poor.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, p 104)

To imitate God for Christians means not simply to reach down to the poor and drop a coin in the beggar’s basket.  It means to reach down to the poor and embrace them and lift them up as a equal, to see in them the image of God and to live with and for them.

Putting On Christ in His Humility

“Did you see how the Master comes down to us? Did you see His infinite kindness? He made no burdensome or oppressive demands on us. Nor did he say: Learn from me, because I have worked miracles, because I have raised the dead, because I have shown forth wondrous deeds, things which belong to His power alone. But what did He say? Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and will find rest for your souls. Do you see what a boon and advantage this yoke is? Therefore, he who had deserved to come under this yoke, he who has been able to learn from the Master to be meek and humble of heart, shall obtain complete rest for his soul. For this is the summary of our salvation. He who has acquired this virtue, although still entangled in the flesh, will be able to vie with immaterial powers and to be free from any connection with his present life. For he who imitates the Master’s meekness will not lose his temper nor be roused against his neighbor. Even if someone shall strike him, he will say:  If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why do you strike me? If anyone call out and say that he is possessed by an evil spirit, he answers: I have not a devil, and none of the charges brought forward against him will be able to hurt him. Such a man will scorn all the glory of the present life; nothing of the visible world will win him over to itself, for from now on he will see things through different eyes. The man who is humble of heart will never be able to envy his neighbor’s possessions. He will not steal, nor will he commit fraud; he will not yearn for wealth, but, while showing great compassion for his kindred, he will forsake the wealth he does have. Such a man will not undermine another’s marriage. Since he has come under the yoke of Christ and has learned to be meek and humble of heart, he will follow in the steps of the Master and manifest every virtue in every way.”

(St. John Chrysostom,  Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pp. 34-35)

Images of Parish Community

Brother Christopher continued, “But it (love) will always show in our relationships.  There’s a principle to keep in mind that I remember coming across in Dorotheos of Gaza, a sixth-century abbot from Palestine.  He told his monks to imagine a circle with a center point, noting that the center point would naturally be the same distance from any point on the circumference of the circle. ‘The circle represents the world’, he said, ‘and the center point, God.’  Then he told them to imagine straight lines drawn from the  edge of the circle to the center.  ‘These represent the lives of human beings.’  Dorotheos then pointed out that to move toward the center, to God, the task of each of our lives, is equally to move closer to one another.  ‘The closer we come to God,’ he said, ‘the closer we become to one another, and the closer we are to one another, the closer we are to God.’  Regardless of context, the other is our path to God.  (The Monks of New Skete, The Spirit of Happiness:  Spiritual Wisdom for Living pg 248).

Imitating Christ and Serving the Least of His Brothers & Sisters

If you were to ask How may I acquire

     His benevolence? try this:  Bring Him

     gold and silver through the needy.

     If you’re short on cash, bring Him

     faith and love and temperance,

     bring Him calm, and kindness, most

     of all a humble heart.  Take great care

     not to judge—not anyone, protect

     your eyes from vanity, keep your hand

     from doing wrong, and keep

     your foot from unlikely paths.

     And while you’re at it:  Comfort the countless

     frightened, console all who suffer.

     At the very least, get off their backs.

     Lift the cup to those who thirst, and break

     a little bread to feed the hungry.

You know this all already; now do it.

(Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity:  Mystics on the Endless Life, pgs 20-21)

We are Children of God When We Imitate God’s Mercy

Sermon notes for  Luke 6:31-36  from  3 October 1993

Then the Lord said:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Jesus is the Son of God.   He speaks to us with all of the authority of God the Father because Jesus is fully divine.   Jesus is THE Teacher of morality for the restored people of God.  If we as God’s people have any questions about how we are to behave, we are to learn from Jesus who is God’s own Son. 

When the Lord Jesus speaks to us, He is not teaching law which sets legal boundaries.  Rather, He is speaking of our inner attitude and He speaks to our hearts.   Our Master rejected the legalism of religion of His day, and offers no legalism to us.   Jesus came to us not as God’s lawgiver, but as God’s example to us.  Jesus fully reveals to us how God expects His people to behave. 

And so we ask the question, how are we to behave?

One thing the Lord Jesus reveals to us is that we are to imitate the kindness of God in our dealings with others.   When we are kind to others, when we are merciful like God our Father is merciful to us, then we show ourselves to really be His children.  We will never be God’s children just by claiming we are.  We are not God’s children simply by claiming that we are human.   We show ourselves to be children of the Merciful God when we ourselves practice the kindness and love which God practices toward everyone on earth.

In other words, what the Lord Jesus teaches us is now the normative behavior for those who are hated, misused, cursed, despised.   If someone is currently sinning against you, or has sinned against you in the past and made themselves to be your enemy, Jesus has taught us how we are to respond. 


What does this mean?   Jesus tells us to love your enemies is to do good to them, to pray for them, to bless them.   That is how you are to treat those who sin against you.   No retaliation.  No reciprocation.  Just Love. 

In fact isn’t this how you hope God will treat you on the Judgment Day when your sins against Him are read? 

Jesus teaches us to go beyond reciprocity, to gift giving.  Give people the gift of prayer, love, forgiveness.   Sinners reciprocate thinking themselves proper, justified, even good.  Sinners do good to those who are good to them, and treat badly those who are bad to them.   However, GOD LOVES.  God in fact loves even sinners. We are to imitate God. 

When Jesus says, “If you love only those who love you what credit is that to you?” –  He is saying, “what sort of gift is that?”   For the gifts of God go far beyond what is expected, deserved or earned because they are gifts of love.  We are to treat each other with gifts of love. 

Basically Jesus teaches that God will do to us as we do to others (including how we treat our enemies).  —   If we bless or curse, forgive or seek vengeance, offer mercy or doggedly pursue justice, God will treat us in the same way. 

The “Golden Rule” to do to others what you want them to do to you is not merely a common sense principle based upon self-interest.  It’s context is that of calling for love for others.  It is an integral part to Jesus teaching about love even for one’s enemies.  Treat all others as you want them to treat you.   If you want your enemies to be at peace with you, then be at peace with them no matter how they behave.  If you want people to love you or respect you or serve you, then do that to them. 

To “do good to those who hate you” means to “act well toward those who hate you”.  It is an attitude (something you choose to do), it is not a feeling (emotion).   Jesus does not say feel good about those who hate you, but only to chose to do good to them, despite their hatred toward you. 

From the 19th Century Welsh “Triads of St. Paul”  –   “There are three ways a Christian punishes an enemy: by forgiving him, by not divulging his sin, by doing all the good in his power.”