I’m not a theologian. But having been raised – even immersed, one might say – in the Christian tradition, I have a sense of what Christ would think about some of the issues that confront us, if he were walking among us on this, the day we traditionally celebrate as his birthday.
There are some things about our society that would surely please him. A world in which slavery no longer exists, the expected life span has been doubled, and infectious diseases have been brought under control would be a pleasant surprise.
The wars and insurrections that rage across the globe would not surprise him, as he lived in a time when Rome ruled the world by force of arms. He would, though, I think be confused by how many of those struggles seem to be predicated on religious pretentions and ethnic strife, rather than quests for territory and material gains.
The one territorial dispute he would understand – the struggle between Israel and Palestine – he would lament. As a Jew, he would empathize with the struggle of his people for a homeland of their own. But I think he would question why so many others were expelled from their homelands to make Israel possible, and why a way can’t be found for Jerusalem to be shared by the people of his ancestry, the followers that he would spawn, and the devotees of the prophet Mohammed, who would follow largely in his footsteps several centuries later.
Of the New World he would know nothing, of course, so the vibrant secular states of the Western Hemisphere would doubtlessly amaze him. I suspect he would applaud the multi-ethnic, racially mixed society that, on the surface, comprises the United States. He would probably be more impressed with Brazil, which has mixed races and ethnicities more thoroughly than we have, but he would give us points for effort and good intentions.
Digging beneath the surface a bit, he might be distressed at the degree of racial friction and ethnic strife that still exist in this country, as elsewhere. His ministry, as I read it, was all about seeing the worth of every human being, beyond their skin color, place of birth, or gender.
He would probably be appalled at the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our contemporary world – a gap between rich and poor much greater than what he knew. Wealth would not impress him; he didn’t have a lot of kind words for the rich. So year end bonuses in the millions of dollars for those who make money mainly by moving money around is something he could hardly understand
On the other hand, he was not inherently opposed to material acquisition. Indeed, he thought it better to invest money than to bury it. But, a carpenter by trade, he more likely would be identifying with the laboring class, and be most sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden.
Thus, on the one hand, he would probably be impressed with the social safety net that our society has created: social security and Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid and food stamps for the poor, a Job Corps and unemployment benefits for those out of work.
On the other hand, he would be puzzled by the people’s reluctance to pay for these programs. The notion that the only good tax is a lower tax, as though no taxes at all would be the best of all worlds, would have little resonance with a man who advocated rendering to Caesar (the government) what was Ceasar’s (needed by the government to pay for the role it plays), while reserving to our churches and ourselves what we can do in the spiritual and personal realms to help ourselves.
The master healer of his times, he would be really confused by the uproar over our health care system. As one who charged nothing for his services, the high cost of health care in our country would be appalling. To be fair, he didn’t have to pay for four years of medical school, hire nurses, or buy x-ray machines in order to cure leprosy, but the notion that health care is a profit-making enterprise would strike him as odd, at best.
What would surely be totally inscrutable to him is the fact that in order for us to be healed, we have to pay a third party who skims 30% of our premiums off the top to pay exorbitant executive salaries and stock dividends, then pays our personal healer with the 70% remaining (or not, if the third party can find the slightest excuse not to do so).
To make matters worse, our ability to invoke the services of this third party lasts only as long as our job does; out of work and we’re out of luck for getting healed, unless we can pay for it ourselves, which often we can’t because we’re out of work in the first place, or have the misfortune to have to stay in a hospital which charges us tremendous fees, in part to cover their extensive marketing campaign to get us to come to their place of business to undergo our pain and suffering.
He presumably would be aware of the attempts now underway in our Congress to fix this system. Doubtlessly he would be amused by the political gamesmanship, posturing, and hypocrisy that goes on in our legislative bodies, but this would be nothing new to a man who was used to dealing with Pharisees and other self-important persons.
Most incongruous to his ear would probably be our acrimonious debate over immigration. To be sure, national boundaries are more rigid and important than they were in his day, but nothing is more consistent in his ministry than the message that the stranger among us deserves to be housed and fed and clothed. Sure, the legal complexities of who can go where from what point of origin and do what are complications of the modern world, and simple admonitions to be charitable toward the stranger in our midst will not resolve this difficult conundrum. But surely, he would think, our search for a way to accommodate newcomers to our land, as our ancestors all once were, could be carried out with a little more common sense and sympathy.
On balance, I think Christ would feel a little disoriented today, and would hardly recognize the acts and admonitions carried out in his name.