“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
– Matthew 25:1-13
I recently watched a little video on Facebook. It was a short clip from 2015 of Keith Ellison, a Muslim congressman, encouraging Democrats to mobilize because otherwise the country might face a Trump presidency. The television hosts, two well-known political commentators with decades of experience between them, laughed smugly, then the clip ended. He could never be president, they thought – the people would never accept that. Of course, they were wrong – the Trump presidency began in eight months ago, though it seems like longer.
Regardless of what one thinks about our president, the fact that he, a billionaire known for belligerence and self-centered callousness, a man with no experience in public service in any capacity, a man with a history of philandering and sexualizing his children, is the President of the United States should indicate that we are in uncharted territory. Nationalism is back in vogue worldwide in ways unseen for the better part of a century. Racial divisions are growing deeper in the United States as White supremacy migrates from the periphery of our political discourse to the mainstream with the euphemistically named “alt-right.” Political aggression and hostility are alternately winked at and actively encouraged by the man who occupies the Oval Office. When we turn on the news, we often see terrorist attacks and decapitations on the other side of the world and brutal suppression of protest here at home. These are troubled times. Violence is in the air.
What is the role of the Christian in Babylon? What can we do when the virtuous are condemned as guilty and the guilty are lauded as virtuous? What can we do when those who claim holiness live like the world and those who claim righteousness are mute before evil? When our trusted leaders in media are like jabbering monkeys, spouting nonsense at ever-increasing volumes? When our senses and sensibilities are so overstimulated that our drowsy eyes only focus when the sensuality of the whore rides the violence of the beast? Do we roll up our sleeves and “fight the power” in the streets? Do we withdraw to the hermit’s cave and await the day of the Lord?
Followers of Jesus must stand boldly in the gap between passive acceptance and violent resistance, refusing to fight, but also refusing to back down. We must choose between letting ourselves and our brothers be helpless victims of a deadly system and inviting aggression by our very stand for righteousness. We must climb the cross with Christ daily, and we must prepare our hearts for the martyr’s crown. I don’t have a grand plan for Christian resistance to Empire, but I do know that it involves being ready to heed the call of Christ – even unto ridicule, even unto poverty, even unto death.
Friends, this isn’t something we can do alone: “Though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” We all need to find the community of disciples that will help us become fit to enlist in the army of the Lamb. For me, that community is the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, which regularly challenges me to serve more, love more and give more than I ever thought I could. Your community may be different, but we all need brothers and sisters in arms to help us to draw closer to Christ, who gives courage to the timid, restraint to the foolhardy, passion to the reserved and wisdom to the hot blooded. We need to be vigilant because we may be called on at any moment to witness to the sovereignty of God.
Will we be ready?