My So-called Rights
March 27, 2003
On Nov. 22, six days before Thanksgiving, United Poultry Concerns held a candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C., for turkeys because “over 40 million birds will be slaughtered inhumanely and live short horrific lives, and are not even thought of each Thanksgiving, when the family carelessly gorges themselves on their carcasses.” United Poultry Concerns has also campaigned for people to email the company AFLAC to get them to stop airing commercials that present ducks in "dangerous, unnatural and degrading situations."
Whatever your opinion on animal rights, there’s no denying that we live in a rights-obsessed culture, a culture where rights are sacred. We started with the Bill of Rights more than 200 years ago, and this quest for rights has gotten to the point that people dedicate their lives to fighting for the rights of poultry.
This rights-obsession isn’t restricted to our culture; it was a major obstacle Jesus had to overcome in transforming the hearts of His 12 disciples. The disciples ask Jesus a question that I still can’t believe they ask: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” There had been a lot of discussion about who was the best disciple among them, and the other disciples felt James, John and especially Peter had been getting favorable treatment from Jesus.
Their beef seemed legitimate. Jesus goes and heals a deathly ill girl and takes only Peter, James and John with Him. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain and only Peter, James and John are allowed to witness it. Jesus pays his temple tax and the tax for Peter, but he doesn’t pay for anyone else. The disciples are essentially saying, “I’m one of the Twelve, I’m following Jesus. Don’t I have the right for the same perks as the Chosen Three over there?”
Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Back in Jesus’ day, children had no rights. There were no state agencies dedicated to making sure children were being cared for and that they were safe from abuse. Children were the property of their parents.
In equating kingdom citizenship with a child, Jesus is telling the disciples they must give up their rights. They can’t be concerned with how they are treated or the honor that they don’t receive.
The argument the disciples had over who was the greatest hasn’t ended. It’s been picked up and continued in churches everywhere. Christians assert their rights and end up floating from church to church. Someone feels unappreciated at Church A and goes to Church B. Someone gets their feelings hurt at Church B and goes to Church C.
But Jesus is still transforming hearts. He’s asking me to put aside the rights I think I have. He is calling me to put other people’s needs above my own. He is calling me to value community.
This means doing things with other people simply for the sake of being together, even if I don’t like the activity (read: bowling). It means sitting in the back seat on a long road trip. It means listening to bad music that someone else likes on that same road trip (read: Celine Dion).
It means giving up everything I think I am and everything I think I deserve and becoming what He wants me to be.
[Ed Courtney has been on staff for six years with Great Commission Ministries and The Rock, a church for college students and twentysomething singles in Columbia, Mo. He and his wife, Beth, are the parents of two cats, Sam and Puzzle.]
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