Dual Citizenship

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, 2 Samuel 4:1-12, Acts 16:25-40, Mark 7:1-23


Paul had the uncommon fortune of being both a Roman citizen and a Jew. When his jailers and the magistrates above them realized he was a citizen, they immediately regretted the public beatings and unfair imprisonment they had heaped upon him, as it was illegal to treat citizens that way.

What if Paul hadn’t been a citizen? Would we feel differently about the injustice of his treatment? Should we feel differently? If it was wrong for him, how could it be less wrong for someone who didn’t share the same accident of birth? After all, the Jewish people didn’t set up camp inside Roman territory; the avalanche of empire left them aliens in their own homes. They weren’t immigrants; they were immigrated upon.

Immigration and citizenship continue to be thorny issues. Many nations, the United States included, have different sets of laws for citizens and non-citizens. Yet in our formation, we too spread like the Roman empire, alienating , dislocating, and slaughtering native peoples. Their story is not so different from the story of Paul’s people, yet because it’s now our territory and we’ve established our laws we don’t think of it the same way at all. Do we believe God is persuaded to accept this double standard by the lines we draw (and redraw) on His borderless globe?

We convince ourselves of our own compassion by saying the “good” immigrants follow the law, but the rules for entering – or staying in – a nation change a lot once the inhabitants decide they are civilized enough to lock the doors, even with someone else’s belongings still in their living room. Immigration regulations are often no more than a matter of timing – of our current cultural prejudices codified into law.

Christians don’t have to agree on how to handle something as complex as immigration and citizenship, but our views should be shaped more by the teachings of Christ than by nationalism, fear, or politics. The law cannot become our refuge from inconvenient mercy. None of us are born or even naturalized to the Kingdom of Heaven; we are admitted by God’s grace.


Additional Reading:
Read more about today’s scripture from Acts in Surrender.
For thoughts on today’s passage from Mark, see Not the heart but the stomach.

Comfort: No matter where we go, willingly or unwilling, we are home in Christ.

Challenge: Read about the history of immigration in America. Chances are you belong to some group that was once considered undesirable.

Prayer: O LORD, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. (Psalm 88:1-2)

Discussion: Immigration is a very politicized topic. Is your faith ever at odds with your politics?

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Citizenship

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Hosea 5:1-7, Acts 22:17-29, Luke 6:27-38


Despite Paul’s efforts to convince the Jews of Jerusalem that he too was a faithful Jew, many refused to believe him. The crowd was willing to listen as he told them the story of his conversion and encounter with Jesus, but as soon as he mentioned the Gentiles, they turned on him. Facts were irrelevant: his association with false accusations and foreigners fed the prejudices against him. Before the crowd could hurt him, Roman officials dragged him away to be interrogated by flogging. They abandoned that plan immediately when Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen by birth: flogging an uncondemned Roman carried serious penalties.

Paul’s persecution was unjust, regardless of his citizenship. We are sympathetic because we know his story, but do we understand what it says to us today? Citizenship – Roman or otherwise – is a human distinction, not a divine one. Christians are subject to nations which get to decide the civil rights of their citizens, but how we treat people – and how we advocate for the treatment of people – is not dictated by human law. We don’t abandon Christian principles about decency just because a government tells us we can – or must. To the contrary, the message of the gospel is incompatible with torture, discrimination, and other evils committed in the cause of nationalism. Mercy is not only for citizens. This is not a statement about immigration policy, but about our fundamental understanding of what it means when Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

“Enemies” aren’t simply people we fight in war; they are everyone we don’t especially want to love. Christ tells us loving those we like is nothing special – even sinners do that. We don’t have to like them, but he does instruct us to pray, feed, forgive, clothe, lend, and do good for them even when they hate and mistreat us … all the while expecting nothing in return. Difficult as it sounds, how we treat our enemies should look a lot like how we treat our friends. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God frees us from borders and obliges us to love.

Comfort: Loving our enemies gets easier with practice.

Challenge: Practice.

Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to love my enemies as Christ loves me. Amen.

Discussion: Whom do you find it difficult to love?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!