It’s Wednesday and I am looking in my Bible to find a list of passages addressing personal rights. Apparently they are the Big Thing these days. Rights to bear arms. Rights to wear or not wear a mask. Rights to protest. Rights to opinions. Right to be angry. Right to resent people being angry. Rights for free speech. Rights for defending property. Rights for self defence. Rights for cultural traditions being upheld. Rights to fly my flag and keep my statues. Rights for freedom of religion. And all of these, so far, seem to be about MY rights.
So biblically, which of MY rights do I have the right to insist upon, no matter what? If I am Christian, what is my right to claim?
Turns out only big one, really – and the others revolve around it.
Jonn 8:31-32 – So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I can claim my right to be free because of the cross. That’s my right. And that’s IT.
All the other references to “rights” in the bible have nothing to do with MY rights, but the rights of others, and my responsibility to work for them. Oops.
Leviticus 25: my responsibility to insure the rights of others…the responsibility to insure the rights of the poor; the responsibility to give the land its own sabbath for renewal; the responsibility to share the harvest with my family and my neighbor and my servants and the poor; the responsibility to honor Jubilee with total freedom for all who have been indentured or enslaved. More – responsibilities to deal fairly, let your impoverished relatives move in, rent free, not charge excessive interest in loans.
Isaiah 1:16 – the responsibility to speak up for the orphan, the widow, the outsider, the ones with no voice of their own.
Jeremiah 22 – the responsibility to build your own prosperity without burdening anyone else unfairly; the responsibility to insist on fair governance for those most likely to be ignored or abused.
Luke 16 – the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; the responsibility to care for the poor.
Micah 6:8 – the responsibility to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God.
Matthew 6;33 – the responsibility to seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his version of rights, not ours.
1 Peter 2:13-17 – the responsibility to shift the culture from within by honoring what is just. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 1 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (italics mine.)
And what does Jesus himself say about our rights?
Matthew 5:12 – we have the right to rejoice in persecution and death if we are being persecuted for his sake and not for our own designs.
Matthew 5;44 – we have the right to pray for our enemies and love them, instead of being overwhelmed by hate.
Luke 11 – we have the right to call God our Father.
John 4:23 – we have the right to worship God in spirit and truth. (Nothing about a building, culture, or 501c3 tax exempt organization.)
John 15 – we have the right to call ourselves chosen.
John 8:31 – we have the right to be free in the love of Christ – IF we follow him and don’t take our own prisons of opinion and self-interest along for the ride.
So as far as I can see, if I’m looking to assert my own rights here, my rights are all in my own heart and nowhere else. But my responsibilities are everywhere, to all those that the Lord loves. And since the Lord IS love, well…….
My guess is that the more I assert my own rights, the more I am likely in my flawed human state to forget the rights of others. And since God has clearly told us to look out for others, that means…
I wear the mask.
I advocate for someone else whose prosperity might actually diminish my own. And if I win, and therefore I lose, I rejoice and do it again.
I silence my opinion in the life experience of others and trust that their truth is valid and worth listening to without push back or defensiveness. I shut up for love.
I put away the guns. I decide that defending myself can take a back seat if I can save this nation from its adoration of weaponry and self reliance. I risk the chance that if someone does evil to me or my loved ones, I will have to choose Jesus’ response to Peter and “put down the sword.”
I dump off my expertise on the world, how it should be run, and what it owes me.
I stop insisting on justice that executes people.
I let you be pissed off at me, and I listen to it with as much openness and commitment to justice and mercy as I can.
I choose to love and embrace the people who scare me, even as I fight against the evil that guides their actions. I look for the person that Jesus loves in the face of the one who hates me. (This scares me a lot, actually. Makes me want to go look for an Upper Room and hang out until the risen Lord shows up.)
I let myself feel the fear, the disappointment, the guilt, the confusion, the weakness, the pain of letting go of my concept of my rights, trusting that Jesus will replace all that stuff with his better stuff. Feeling shitty now, laying down the manure for the blooming of the kingdom later, in layman’s terms.
I have that right.