If Jesus were preaching the Beatitudes today I have a hunch he might change it up a bit, adding,
Blessed are those without social media, for they shall be pure in heart.
Unless you are so blessed, you no doubt have been privy to the viral uproar around a group of high school kids from Covington Catholic School who seemingly taunted a Native American. This picture was all over my Facebook feed Saturday and Sunday:
I’m ashamed to admit that my gut reaction upon seeing this, along with the few minutes of video clip first shared by so many on social media, was one of anger and disgust. Truthfully, I wanted to punch the smirk off of this young man’s face. Reading the comments of many of my friends, it seems I wasn’t alone.
It was, I suppose, easy to get caught up in the hype around the story. It did, after all, confirm (or uncover) certain biases I have towards a whole host of people based solely on whom they voted for President. And if you are wearing a MAGA hat? Well then, you get no mercy or consideration. This news story did an excellent job at revealing my own prejudices.
Ironically, as the social media mob gained steam decrying the prejudice we perceived these white kids expressed towards Native Americans, I was guilty of my own prejudice against anyone wearing a MAGA hat. I couldn’t see anything but red.
As more and more of the story was revealed, along with longer video clips and statements from those involved, it would appear that the above picture does not tell the whole story. If you haven’t read it, I invite you to read the statement of Nick Sandmann, the boy in the picture above: Nick Sandmann’s Statement.
I’m not writing this post, however, to convince you that any particular party to this event is innocent or guilty. Instead, I’m writing to confess what this event revealed in my own heart, which I would argue is every bit as bad if not worse than whatever wrongs I imagine were committed by a group of strangers to me.
The brother of Jesus wrote this:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19)
As this story was getting shared and commented upon on my news feed, I got angry quickly. It is only because I heard a sermon on this text just last week that I paused and decided against sharing the story myself. However, that did not stop me from reading every juicy thing I could find about it and allow my heart to be carried away with anger and judgment. James goes on to say that “human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (1:20). The Spirit reminded me that God does not want me swimming in a tidal wave of judgment and anger but to instead be merciful (Matt. 9:13). Not only that, but even if I perceive someone in a MAGA hat as my enemy, am I not called to love them? Jesus’ words are worth reading again, as they are quite clear:
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5).
At the end of the day, I have no idea what is in the heart of Nick Sandmann or Nathan Phillips or any of those in attendance at that rally. I only know what is in my heart and I didn’t like what I saw this weekend.
- I learned that I can easily be swept up in a mob mentality when something confirms a bias I already hold.
- I learned that I can be quick to judge and too quickly become angry.
- I learned that I hold prejudices in my heart that are as wrong and sinful as those of the racists and bigots I condemn.
- I learned that I have a long way to go to be perfected in love of God and neighbor.
- I learned that I do not always extend to others the mercy and grace God has so freely lavished upon me, while I was yet his enemy.
When the religious rulers brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and asked him what should be done, they were right about their law. But when Jesus revealed what was in each of their hearts, and showed mercy to the adulteress, he revealed that God’s arm of love and mercy is longer than the arm of truth or law. Whatever the truth may be in this latest news cycle story, it should never trump the rule of love and mercy.
Perhaps, if John 8:1-11 were written today, it might happen differently, replacing the woman caught in adultery with a 17 year old boy wearing a MAGA hat.
“Chad,” Jesus gently whispers to me, “if you are without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone.”