Dark Devotional: To Die for an Ungodly Neighbor

For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
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“The sun shines on the good and the wicked.” Art by Brian C. Jocks

In the aftermath of the presidential election, I’ve seen many Catholic bloggers and Facebook-ers address the question of “martyrdom.” The discussion is focused on the housing and protection of illegally immigrated persons, Syrian refugees, and Muslims. Most of us are convinced that if the opportunity ever arose, we’d provide a home for those in need and tell government police squadrons to stick it.

I’m not immune, of course. I’ve already written a great deal on the topic of really living our Christian faith, and how that translates those types of small martyrdoms and, sometimes, actual martyrdoms.

When it comes down to it, I think I’d be willing to die for a[n unthreatening-looking, Westernized] Muslim. I’d have no problem suffering for my [completely assimilated, uninterested-in-jihad] Islamic brothers and sisters.

 It gets stickier when you imagine, as many do, that some Muslims might actually have a vested interest in Sharia law. Now, I don’t think that this is likely or evidenced in any manner, but just for the sake of it, let’s imagine it’s true.

Imagine that to adhere to a certain religion demands that you seek to overthrow secular government and destroy the oppositional thought of alternate religions. If the U.S. government were, theoretically, to attempt to deport all members of this imagined religion, what would you do?  What would I do? As a devout Catholic who has a vested interest in maintaining a pluralistic society, is it easy for me to let that person into my home?

A recent viral video showed Muslims talking about how they’re perfectly normal, consuming and producing Americans. But when I watched it, I noticed that most of the people in the video looked fairly Western. Most of the men were moderately tanned and clean shaven. A few women were in hijab, but none in niqab or burka. Are we only okay with people who are different from us if we are reminded that, in fact, they aren’t so different from us after all?

So many romantic comedies end when those with “differing opinions” reconcile due to something shared underneath–an interest in a peaceful family Easter celebration, or a happy vacation together. So many Facebook arguments are dedicated to proving that refugees and immigrants aren’t dangerous at all, and that the crime rate among these populations is lower than that of naturalized Americans. While well-intentioned and based on real, factual evidence, they miss the point of why we must love our neighbor.

We don’t love them because they’re friendly-looking or use the right words or promise to contribute to our tax system. Most of the time, our neighbor does do those things. But what if they don’t? What do we do when we don’t have any apparent shared interests? What do we do when our fellow members of the human race refuse to assimilate, or still dress differently than us, or even threaten our children with scandal by their life choices? What do we do when our family members leave us heartbroken? What do we do about bearded and turbaned men walking alongside their wives in burkas? What do we do when a Hispanic person actually is managing a drug cartel through the open border? What do we do when a Syrian refugee doesn’t speak English and beats his wife? What do we do when our neighbor actually tries to kill us?

What do we do when they nail us to a cross?

Jesus answers that even if these things are true, we are to turn the other cheek, offer our cloak, and let them into our home. And He’s right, as always. We can’t, as Christians, allow very real sins to disqualify whole groups of people from our love, because Jesus didn’t do that. This is radical. This is painfully different from anything the world tells us. Because even if all the negative and even deadly stereotypes about groups of people are true, nothing changes about the demands of Christian love.

The Catholic Church teaches that moderation and self-preservation are reasonable, as She is right to teach. However, self-preservation should not be intentionally extended at the cost of someone else’s life or salvation. To be pro-life, we have to be willing to die that another may live. That teaching doesn’t just apply to an unborn baby. Even if it is difficult and damn near impossible to literally die for an ungodly person, we must. It was never about their guilt or innocence, but the force of our love.

What a demand. What an impossibly divine demand.

Many Christians argue that it is less wrong to take a guilty life than an innocent life. The “good thief,” who died next to Jesus, would agree; he said, upon his cross, that “we are indeed suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). The problem with believing innocent lives are the only lives worth preserving is that the only truly innocent person ever to be crucified was Jesus.

Most of us would rather kill than be killed. Most of us would not want to die for the person pulling the trigger–or even the person threatening our lifestyle. Most of us would rather expel our neighbor than allow them to take our job. We don’t deserve to be died for; we hardly deserve to live. None of us can easily be martyred for people that look differently and believe differently than we do, especially if those looks and beliefs threaten us.

This is the paradox of Jesus: the only way we can be mended is to cast our lots with the broken. The only way we can be resurrected is by dying, physically or spiritually, for the dangerous, for the lost, for the downright despicable. The only way we can have true life is to lose it out of love for the people nailing us to our crosses. Jesus proves that we are loved just for being. Not for being good, not for living peacefully, or for being a Christian: just for being.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

None of us is truly worthy of that kind of love, not by human standards. None of us is innocent. None of us deserves shelter or salvation, if we are the appointed judges. So for Christians, let there be no more talking about how safe refugees are, even if they are safe. That’s not the point. The point is that Christian love sacrifices for the greedy and the pure of heart; it welcomes the unsafe and the loving.

The Father makes the sun shine on the good and the wicked, and we are called to be perfect like Him.

MaddieFoleyMaddie Foley is an 18-year-old writer from Covington, Louisiana, and a future Program of Liberal Studies major at the University of Notre Dame. She is a recently enamored Catholic, a Dorothy Day groupie, and a known Judeophile.  This is her first contribution to Sick Pilgrim.

Brian C. Jocks has a B.A. in fine art from the University of Louisiana and is a winner of multiple Addy Awards for his commercial design. Brian’s art makes its way online on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

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