A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, “Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country.”
Today's ominous reading from Exodus is matched by Jesus' exhortation to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
What do the followers of Christ do when they find themselves in a hostile nation? Perhaps they came as missionaries to the country and did not expect a welcome. Or, more likely, they were born there and grew up in a Christian ghetto. Leaving the safety of their homes after careful instruction from their parents and teachers, they knew what to expect from their neighbors.
But sometimes they discover their native culture has changed. The neighbors who were hospitable inexplicably open a suspicious distance between them.
The Book of Wisdom describes the difficult situation and constant hope of the just one who has been sent to a hostile nation. The wicked say,
Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.There are innumerable options we might suppose but they break down to three: the Christians can flee to a more hospitable place; they can throw off their Christian faith and traditions and conform to the new standards; or they can maintain their faith and traditions and hope to call their fellow citizens back to sanity.
That hope, of course, is not an idle preference. It is an active spirit that commits the Christian to the long term project of practicing faith as a sojourner in a foreign land. She will cultivate virtue -- building up treasure in heaven, as it were -- while her neighbors pursue other ambitions.
She will learn to deflect slights and insults as not meant personally, though they are intended personally. The abuse is an assault on the Lord of the Christian and not the Christian. That Lord will exact revenge if it so pleases him, or forgive if that is God's choice.
Many Catholics in the United States grew up expecting welcome among their compatriots. We fought in their wars and voted in their polling stations and held office in their governments. We have proven our worth as loyal Americans and good Christians.
But many people, claiming the same distinctions as American and Christian, are becoming hostile toward our way of life. We marry for life; we accept children from God regardless of their abilities or appearances; we care about the common good. We cannot ignore crimes against life: abortion, suicide, capital punishment, alcoholism and so forth. We believe that America should welcome anyone who is willing to live by the law, regardless of their wealth, education, abilities, ethnicity, race or religion. We believe that homosexuals should enjoy the same dignity and privilege of every citizen. Unlike our neighbors who love sin and despise sinners, we will love the sinner even as we despise the sin.
We prefer hospitality wherever the Lord sends us; but we will always offer hospitality. If a new pharaoh has come to Egypt who knows not the Lord, he cannot uproot us from our native land.