“Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” Many of us have sung this old gospel hymn with such joy and gusto and our Men’s Group, I believe will be singing it again this year. But really when you reflect on it, sainthood is not a fun-filled path. I would suggest that you look up the verses to this popular song about saints, and you’ll find words that are not nearly as joyous as the refrain. The verses remind us that the path toward God is not usually an easy one.
In this week’s readings from Daniel 7, Daniel’s spirit is troubled, and he has a vision of kings arising like beasts from the earth. Yet God promises that the holy ones will inherit the earth. And in Luke 6 the writer offers future blessings to the poor, the hungry, and the righteous of God. However, the timing of all this blessing is unknown. Luke cries “woe” upon the successful and satisfied of this world, but his promises of later laughter for the saintly are not all that comforting when one is racked with grief.
I’m not sure I do want to be in that number with the saints as they go marching toward God. They march with burdens of martyrdom. They march with the weight of the world. They march with suffering for the needs of others. They march with a willingness to carry earth’s deep sorrows on their back. They march all the way to the cross. They march with persistence and perseverance against all odds, working for God’s realm to come to this earth. Okay, well honestly, maybe I do want to march with them. But does the cost have to be so high?!
I read somewhere and reflected on this thought and was challenged deeply. It goes: “Woe to me, for yearning for an easy path, for I am destined for a bumpy road toward God.” I don’t know about you, but the road toward God being a bumpy has certainly seemed to be my life pattern
Anyone can love when life is good, when the path is easy, but can I love when it is risk-filled, when I will not get a fair return? If we look at his life, Jesus does not back off in proclaiming woes to the rich and self-satisfied in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and most of us would be happy if he stopped there. In the next breath he calls us to love those whom he has just denounced, that we are to be merciful as our God is merciful. Loving my enemies is the hardest part of the gospel. Jesus is naming the reality that if you want to bring the Beloved Community—you will upset a lot of people.
Have you ever thought about the fact that most of what we admire about Jesus made someone angry? “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” has been Jesus’s bumper sticker since before there were bumpers, and we all love our nice neighbours. But what about those Samaritans? Or Muslims, or Gang Members, or immigrants, rednecks, socialists, Trump followers—you name them—are they the neighbours I must love? When Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword, he is not saying pick up your sword; he is acknowledging that if you want to follow him in the way of love, then expect conflict.
Despite the Beatles claim that “All you need is love,” humanity doesn’t always want to love. We are often a greedy, selfish, suspicious species. Jesus did not say, don’t make enemies. Sometimes you can’t help having them; clearly Jesus did. The point is to not let your heart be consumed with hatred, for that dehumanises you and the other. Don’t destroy yourself by fighting battles you cannot win, and don’t destroy yourself from within by giving in to hate. Continue to bless, even if your neighbour has earned woe.
So, the call of Jesus is that God wants us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The amazing thing is that if you live this way, people will be shocked. You maybe even be declared a saint. Some of what you do will seem to go unnoticed, but there are those who will never forget. Your actions will be remembered. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is exactly what it says. It’s not really a golden rule.
It’s a sweaty, frustrated, teeth-gritted, trying-not-to-be-resentful effort toward acting in the right way toward your neighbours, your co-workers, your family. It makes a nice platitude, except that you know that’s exactly what Jesus did not mean for it to be. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not mean be a doormat. It is not an excuse to accept abuse or poor treatment. It is a creed for all who believe their worth has been determined by God—that they are valued and beloved. Thus, you treat others with the respect they may not give themselves.
You remove yourself from harm, from danger, from trial. You do not allow others to grieve their hearts by hurting you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not a saint make. Instead it is the motto of our adopted family—the family that has received us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is the work of our family and the family who will help us to live out this verse. Sainthood will be for those who do this and never see it as work.