The City Of Otherly Love

Philadelphia.  The City of Brotherly Love.  I am told that if one travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one will learn quickly that Philly is no more lovable and cuddly than any other city in America or, for that matter, the world.  I wouldn’t know; I haven’t been there.  I love American football however, and I have seen that disgruntled fans in New York throw ice and in Seattle throw decibels,  but in Philly they throw sacks of bolts, so I assume that it’s a pretty tough town.

I don’t know exactly where the idea of a “City of Brotherly Love” same from, but I think it may have arisen from Augustine of Hippo’s book “City of God,” in which he compares the earthly notion of a city, which in his book is Rome, the only city in the world that really mattered at that time, and the New Jerusalem, the City of God, which was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The premise, if I rightly understood it, is that this City of God is coming down to replace the City of Man, and that in the City of God the teachings of Jesus, foremost of which was “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” is its defining characteristic.  It seems to me that the hallmark of the City of God, the city begun by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is that it is a city where the inhabitants love each other as they do themselves.  That city is not Philadelphia, Pa.  It isn’t any earthly city that I know.

But does it necessarily follow that just because I can’t find a true Philadelphia on the map  it doesn’t exist?  I will grant you that if I Google “The real, functioning City of Brotherly  Love,” I am not likely to find that city.  And I am not going to find it by driving down Interstate 5 to the junction with Interstate 70 and then east to Interstate Whatever, and then taking offramp number 7 which will put me fifteen miles away from the city limits sign for “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Yet the City of Brotherly Love is there.  Jesus said that it is there.  It descended from heaven to earth when Jesus ascended from earth to heaven.  It can be hard to see, but if you look you will see it in an American white man who gives CPR to a non-breathing little black girl while the distraught father looks on in helpless horror.  It can be seen when a Burmese Buddhist stands up for a Burmese Muslim, and when a Sunni in Iraq shelters a Shi’ite, Christian or Yazidi neighbor from the ISIS goons who will kill or make a sex slave of them.  It is seen when the ten year old school child tells others to leave the new kid alone, and then befriends her.  That is when the City of God, or of Brotherly Love, that Jesus and Augustine and so many others spoke of, becomes easier to see.

At the heart of this city-building, as I see it, is the willingness to offer acceptance and love to people not like US.  I can’t tell a Burmese Rohingya from a Burmese Muslim, a Rwandan Hutu from a Rwandan Tutsi, a Northern Ireland Catholic from a Protestant, or a Trump supporter from a Clinton supporter, but somehow they can, and myriad others of a similar bipolar disposition.  And because people on each side of these many divides can tell US from THEM, we still wait for the City of Brotherly Love to be established as the dominant, and only, city on Earth.

In the City of US it is relatively easy to get along because WE look so much alike.  WE have similar education levels, similar complexion, similar beliefs and so on.  We will, by and large, endure the minute differences which exist among us because we align so well on all of the big ones.  And who knows, perhaps I will be able to show my co-citizens in this earthly city the error in their way and eventually they will have it all together.  Like I do.

The problem with the City of US however is that it is quite small.  Like Williston North Dakota, Clarksdale Mississippi or Bar Harbour, Maine, the citizens of the City of US is very small and very homogenous.  Everyone sort of looks the same and thinks the same, and where a small number of THEM are tolerated, more or less, they are expected to keep a low profile, not try to provide much input into the body politic, and be humble towards US.

This is not a city in which brotherly love is practiced.  There is plenty of love of brothers, to be sure, but love that is LIKE that of a brother toward a brother; love that risks all and gives all as one would for a brother but which in fact is given to someone who is not at all one’s biological brother, that love is scarce indeed in the City of US.

And we will hardly waste words on the City of THEM.  THEY are the outsiders who either threaten our security now or very easily might in the future.  The City of THEM can be useful if it is neutral and/or subservient.  But if it rejects our superiority and deigns to suggest an equality or superiority to US, suspicion at best is their lot and hate/fear is the most likely sentiment to be projected their way from US.  THEY may be used as our playground or targeted as a threat, but other than the ‘love’ that we extend to others on a cash-and-carry basis, there will be little of the real thing to be seen.

Jesus spoke of something different.  Jesus spoke of love for the OTHER; the Samaritan woman at the well and the Samaritan traveler in the famous parable.  Jesus ate with the tax collectors, the prostitutes and other ‘sinners.’  Jesus was touched by a bleeding woman and did not rebuke her; in fact, healed her.  Jesus made ready to travel to a Roman centurion’s house to heal his servant.  A gentile!  Jesus kept breaking rules and taboos, blessing the outsiders and criticizing the blatant hypocrisy of US, the insiders.  Jesus’ only recorded anger was toward the religious establishment, the ultimate WE in first century Israel.  I propose that Jesus called us, and is still calling us, to be citizens of a City of Otherly Love.  Jesus told us as plainly as can be that we are to not only love the OTHERS, but also to learn from them.  That perfect city will be filled with people who love the OTHER as they love themselves, without expecting repayment or favor of some form in return.

What does/will that city look like?  I don’t really know, but I am confident that nobody else knows either.  Will the Iraqi Sunni who fed, clothed and sheltered his Yazidi neighbor from being beaten, stripped naked and crucified by ISIS, his wife beheaded and his daughter serially raped and sold as a sex slave be there?  Will the Burmese Buddhist who sheltered a Rohingya from the mob, a Thai Buddhist monk who worked to rescue young girls and boys from the notorious Thai sex industry, which feeds the lusts of Western “sex tourists?”  Will Robert Wilson, an American atheist who gave $22.5 million to New York Catholic education be in the city?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, as they are considerably above my pay grade.  But I have read that Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, said ” Then the King will say to those on His right ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.  I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” At that point the people to whom He is speaking ask “When did we ever do those things?” “The King will reply ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, YOU DID FOR ME (my emphasis).'”

OK, I’m no theologian.  Heck, compared with a true theologian I am barely literate.  And the title of my blog IS Musings and other Mental Wanderings, after all.  I am sufficiently literate however to read the very words of my Lord Jesus Christ.  He seems to have suggested – no, proclaimed – that a kingdom, a city, would be populated by people whom ‘the righteous’ least would expect to find there.  By people who, in fact, might be surprised to find themselves there.  The finer points I won’t debate.  I will cling to the big picture.  Jesus loves those who sacrificially love.  Jesus loves those who will extend themselves to the poor, the prisoner, the sick, the outsider, the OTHER.  Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious establishment who would not do those things.  I like this Jesus.  No, I love Him.

So what is my challenge?  Only to seek to be a citizen of the City of Otherly Love.  I need to love and serve those who don’t look like me, smell like me, worship like me, who are not in my community of faith and, most importantly, who could not possibly pay me back for anything that I might do for them.  If I can add my name to the citizenship rolls of that City, that Kingdom, then the reconciliation of heaven and earth will be one step closer, and I will be that much deeper in the loving arms of the Savior who pursues us all.

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