Sunday, June 02, 2019


So the cry goes out, and so others are drawn to join in the chorus – make us great again!  And I, like others, wonder what it actually means, what attracts people about that cry?  Make America, France, Britain, Israel, Germany … great again!  Is it that people don’t feel great, or that they want others to think that their country is great, or that they look back to some mythical ‘golden age’ when it seemed everything was ‘great’?  What does it mean to be ‘great’?  Is it linked to memories of a time when standards of living for most (white) Americans were reasonably high; when (white) people knew they were special because other ethnic groups were side-lined; when Coca-Cola culture ruled the (air)waves? When we could project the dark side of our persona onto ‘communism’?

In 2018 research showed that roughly 70% of white evangelicals in the US supported Trump (the percentage had fallen over the previous two years and was much was lower amongst other Christian churches).  ‘Social scientists have proposed a variety of explanations, including economic dissatisfaction, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. The current study establishes that, independent of these influences, voting for Trump was, at least for many Americans, a symbolic defense of the United States’ perceived Christian heritage.’ (Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review January 2018)   So is the cry, ‘Make America Great Again’ a veiled call to make America (here slot in any other nation) economically wealthy, white, Protestant-Christian with men in control and looked up to and feared by others?  In view of all that it seems appropriate to ask how Christ might respond to the cry – make us great again.  Here are some thoughts.

When it seemed Jesus might be the one to lead the Jews to freedom (Matthew 11.2ff) he responded to two of John’s disciples by saying: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  This reflects what Jesus taught about how to live in the Reign of God in the Beatitudes:

              “Blessed are you who are poor,
                             for yours is the kingdom of God.
              “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
                             for you will be filled.
              “Blessed are you who weep now,
                             for you will laugh.
              “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame      you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is  
              great in heaven, for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
              “But woe to you who are rich,
                             for you have received your consolation.
              “Woe to you who are full now,
                             for you will be hungry.
              “Woe to you who are laughing now,
                             for you will mourn and weep.
              “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false
                 prophets.   (Luke 6.16ff)

That was echoed by the Mother of Jesus when she sang her Magnificat:
              “His mercy is for those who fear him
                             from generation to generation.
              He has shown strength with his arm;
                             he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
              He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
                             and lifted up the lowly;
              he has filled the hungry with good things,
                             and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1.50ff)

Mary does tell of the greatness she experienced, and why?  Because she was chosen to bear Christ.  So the first thing we can say is that those who bear Christ in the womb of the heart need to realise their greatness.  The second thing is a consequence, that any society which seeks to incarnate – give expression to – the Beatitudes needs to realise the greatness of how it seeks to live. 
              The kind of ‘greatness’ shown by Trump often seems accompanied by acts of bullying, denigrating others, using lies and fabrications, nurturing a culture of hatred towards any who hold different views (especially if they are in the media) and disregard for any concern for Mother Nature.  It seems to me that, just as Christ was quick to condemn certain powerful Jews:

              ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.’ (Matthew 23.27f)

he would have been quick to condemn these views and actions.

Christians can only be great to the extent they are prepared to put themselves aside, take the lowest place and wash the feet of others.  Our greatness comes from recognising that we are to live in this way, knowing that we are loved by God and precious in his sight; that in the eyes of the One who made us in his image and likeness, we have immense value.  Our greatness cannot come from something outside of us, it comes from knowing and believing that I am loved and precious in the sight of God.  It comes from knowing that God gazes on me, loves me and believes that I have all the potential he has given to me.  It is something we have to realise; it happens when we know that our Maker sees the wonder of our being. Then we are to live in the light of that realisation and know, as Jesus said, that our greatness is connected to the way we are to be the servant of all (Mark 9.35) and see the image of God’s greatness hidden in all things. 

Greatness is humility, the humility that comes from putting the other first, from knowing that I am dust, but dust destined for glory.  When our ego demands recognition, it will never find peace; Christ teaches us to set our ego-self aside and follow him.  There is great danger in tempting others to seek greatness, a temptation relished by Satan for it opens the way of corruption and the only weapon that Satan cannot defend himself against is the weapon of humility.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”  (Matthew 16.24ff)

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