Resident Aliens

Resident Aliens

June 4, 2020

 “This is My command to you: love one another. If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason.” 
(John 15:17-19, The Voice)

The gospel of John uses dualistic themes quite often: light/darkness, truth/falsehood, love/hate. These dualistic themes are used to symbolically represent the radical nature of Christ’s call to discipleship. In the gospel of John, disciples live in the light while the world is in darkness. Disciples know the truth while the world rejects the truth. Disciples love Jesus while the world hates or despises him.

The world, as a descriptor, is used symbolically to represent anything that goes against God’s true intention. However, the gospel of John is also complex enough that it doesn’t necessarily want to reduce our understanding and thinking to clearly delineated categories of black-and-white. After all, “God so loved the world that God sent God’s son.” God still loves the world even though the world is described as hating God.

The scripture reading above presents one of the dualistic relationships between those who love Jesus and those who hate or despise Jesus. In the passage Jesus makes the case that the same world that despised him will despise those who follow him. What is most striking for me is the picture Jesus paints of his disciples as those whom he has taken out of the world. Disciples may be in the world but they are not of the world. As the early church father, Diognetus, put it, disciples are “resident aliens.”

This image resonates with me as an immigrant, and as a black person. In many ways, immigrants and black people are despised in this American world because there is the false narrative of what being American means for some. The fallacy of white supremacy and white privileges wants to tell people like myself that we do not belong here, and because we don’t belong here we don’t deserve just and equal treatment.

But as an immigrant who is now an American citizen, I have no other home but this one. So what am I supposed to do when the American world keeps telling me that this is not my home?

Some Christian folk who have reflected on the resident alien image, often resign to the thinking that heaven is our home. In this world we are resident aliens because heaven is our home. But, what is heaven and where is heaven? I, for one, refuse to believe that heaven is only some sweet-by-and-by. Such a belief is often used against people living under oppression, to manipulate them to submit to the unfair and unjust treatment of the world. We are supposed to submit to suffering in this world because in the sweet-by-and-by things will get better. Well, I reject that notion.

I reject the notion because God loved the world – the very world that despised God. God opted to enter into the world in order that the world might be saved. The love of God in Jesus Christ thus compels me to a different kind of a witness – a witness that enters into the dark places where darkness reigns in order to shine light into it. The love of God calls me to enter into the places where falsehoods are being proclaimed, such as the lie that black lives are indispensable and nobody should care, but to enter into those spaces and proclaim the truth that Black Lives Matter. The love of God invites me to not just sit idly by and watch the world burn but to seek a witness that will usher the world toward its redemption.

From this perspective, Love is the force more powerful than any of the hatred and injustice that this world may want to present. In the scripture passage, Jesus says, “if you were a product of the world, the world would love you. But you are not a product of this world.” This, for me, begs the question: “what then does it mean to be a product of the world, and what does it mean to be the opposite?”

I want to invite you to think about this question seriously and honestly. I invite you to consider how your response might lead you to live differently than you may be living now in order to truly be a product of a different kind of world: the world in which God truly reigns.

May God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven! Amen.

In Faith & Love, Pastor Shandi