Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know,
or with a pretext for greed–God is witness–
nor did we seek praise from men,
either from you or from others,
although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ.”
After the Resurrection of Jesus, the apostles have a difficult task: they must go and convert a hostile people to Christ. Not only this, but they cannot coerce people with empty promises, business connections, or some influence with the Roman emperor. They must essentially start from scratch: they have no money or any formal establishments, no famous converts, or any academic reputation—Paul is as close as they come to a legitimate scholar.
In such a situation, any reasonable person hoping to “win friends and influence people” would resort to smooth tactics of sincere flattery and non-confrontation—good old fashion religious salesmanship. He would “seek common ground” with those who disagreed, accommodate different tastes, and above all, avoid argument. As Dale Carnegie says, “The best way to win an argument is not to have one.” Instead of arguments, the reasonable proselytizer shares “his story” and talks about a common vision in which all men can aspire. He would compliment other religions and lifestyles, “celebrating” their “courage,” or their “honesty.” With nothing to lose, and whole church of desperate vain people to gain, the smooth talkers would have seduced the whole Roman populace in a short amount of time.
In addition to promoting a positive message in a positive style, they should have directed to their message the powerful, not the poor. By ingratiating themselves with the Sanhedrin, the Imperial Court, or at least some prominent barbarians tribal chiefs, they could have cut through centuries of tireless preaching. After a useful series “dialogues,” Peter and Paul could have come to a compromise with Emperor Claudius—maybe by promising a place in heaven, or performing a miracle for his benefit, or granting him a religious title equivalent with one of the Persons of the Trinity—and save themselves the persecutions of Nero, Decius, Diocletian, and other bored emperors.
If this happened to be unfeasible because of the brutal nature of Romans conditioned by a brutal religion and a brutal government, the apostles could have invented an enemy to bring people to their cause. It worked for the Jews, and it would work well six centuries later for the Muslims. They could have formed ethnic/nationalistic identity unto themselves and formed an “us vs. them” movement. Angry Romans would find their frustrations expressed by the Christians who would scapegoat barbarians, the emperor, tax collectors, the military, the law, the schools, and dishonest merchants; and then promise a fairer system for all, ordained by God Himself—though they would have keep the details of such a plan hazy.
Unfortunately, Christ does not allow His disciples to weasel their way into unsuspecting people’s hearts. He does not let loose a pack of Christian lobbyists into Rome, or Christian demagogues in the countryside or public forums to ignite a populist movement. Despite having the option on multiple occasions, Jesus Himself does not take control of an army, like Mohammed, or seize the culture, like Pharisees or the French Enlightenment’s literati. Spurning such earthly, predictable, courses to power, He relinquishes these options, and tells His disciples to do the same.
In flat contradiction to prescribed methods, the disciples do not make friends, but enemies. They do not avoid argument, but argue quite bitterly, even with sympathetic audiences. They do not compliment or flatter, but condemn all wrongdoing in the plainest language. For the most part, they seem utterly unimpressed with the officials and emperors, not even noticing them so much as to insult them; Paul, and arguably Jesus too, advise their audiences to keep their heads down and simply stay out of politics. Finally, instead of finding a convenient scapegoat, they become the scapegoat.
For any student of history, the spread of Christianity makes no sense, and indeed, Paul’s letters make no sense. Neither he nor his readers have anything to gain from this. They could have spared themselves the indignity of acting as a “nursing mother” to addicts, perverts, paupers, hypocrites, and idiots. They could have “played the game” like any other ambitious person.
That is, unless the Gospel of God were true. Only truth, nothing less, could lead such a group of men to such insanity (or extreme sanity, depending on how one sees it).
Politics will inevitably corrupt the false religion, however noble its origins or ideals. It will assume the character of populism, cronyism, nationalism, utopianism, and even nihilism. When the Church and her members cling to the truth, with all their body, mind, and soul, they may thwart these human patterns and retain their heavenly destiny.