We are used to Church and State living in relative harmony in America (a nation founded by religious pilgrims). But for most of their history, Christians have been misunderstood and lived in at least low-grade persecution. Do we expect to be understood by a world that uses a different operating system? It is completely normal—and I would say necessary—for us to feel ill at ease in this world. We should not be disturbed at being misunderstood and badgered; we should expect it. Jesus told us, after all (in today’s gospel) that “because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”
We can live with the world hating us, because it doesn’t hate us relentlessly. Much of the time the world loves us, and we love the world. Last week I found a new spot in the park. I cannot reveal its location, but let us say it is a little mountain lake in the middle of the city, shielded from noise by spreading pines and expansive azalea bushes. Geese and ducks grace its verdant waters, while box turtles placidly sun themselves on its shores. Walkers and cyclists amble past, some talking softly, aware of the delicate peace of this place. Even by worldly standards, this spot radiates exceptional tranquility and joy, and when one sits on a bench with the open Word of God, it becomes transformed. Even in this world, which must misunderstand us, God gives us places of retreat, little foretastes of heaven.
I hope that one day, I will know God so deeply that nothing will disturb me. I hope that one day everyone will come to a place of peace “that the world cannot give.” But by Christ’s own definition, this place is not to be found in this world. The world is beautiful, even if it misunderstands us, and even hates us, and it even serves as a sacrament of the perfect joy in the life of the world to come.