Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Church in Laodicea

The Church in Laodicea
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing;" not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore, I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. I correct and discipline those whom I love. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 
- Jesus' message to the Church in Laodicea, circa 95 AD (Revelation 3:15-20)

Laodicea was an ancient Roman free city in Asia Minor; the ruins of which today are located near the modern city of Denizli, in Southwestern Turkey. It was one of the Seven Churches of Asia mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Many of Laodicea's inhabitants were Jewish and in the first century were Christianized by disciples of St. Paul (possibly by St. Epaphras who was mentioned in his letters to the Colossians and Philemon).

Laodicea was a very prosperous city which benefited from its location at the crossroads of economic trade routes and had large financial, black wool, and agricultural industries. It was a cosmopolitan city with a taste for the arts and literature. It also had a great medical school which specialized in diseases of the eye (ophthalmology). In addition, it had an impressive aqueduct system which carried hot mineral water from several miles away into the city; but by the time it got to the city though, it was tepid or lukewarm.

When Jesus talks about them being neither cold nor hot, he was probably making an analogy to the tepid, lukewarm water Laodicea was known for. As a character trait, being tepid is synonymous with being apathetic, unenthusiastic, indifferent, or uninterested. When we drink water or soda we want it to be cold, and when we drink coffee or tea we want it to be hot. Room temperature beverages just don't taste good; in fact, they can be quite unpalatable. What do we do when we've discovered our coffee has cooled to room temperature? We spit it out. "Cold and hot" are desirable compared to being lukewarm.

Holocost survivor Elie Wiesel once said, "The opposite of love is not's indifference." And indifference is treating others as if they didn't matter. All around us are people that society treats as inconsequential, having no value or importance, such as the homeless, the poor, the illegal immigrant, the handicapped, the old, the unborn, and many others. But more importantly, we become indifferent or apathetic towards God. We say we believe in God or we have faith, but our actions don't match up with our beliefs. We may go to Church on Sunday, but we don't live our faith during the week. If we're like this, then our faith and works are lukewarm and unpalatable to God.

When Jesus talks about the Laodicean's poverty, blindness, and nakedness, he was probably making an analogy to the city's wealth, medical science, and their black wool. Materially the city was wealthy, but spiritually they were poor; their medical school specialized in ophthalmology, yet they were spiritually blind; they made black wool, yet they were spiritually naked. And why were they spiritually poor, blind, and naked? It was because of their pursuit of material wealth that they didn't see the poverty all around them. The purpose of wealth is not to raise one's standard of living but to help improve society as a whole. By sharing our wealth with others we help cure society's ills and make life better for everyone.

The developed world today has become just like The Church in Laodicea. We're wealthy beyond our wildest dreams; we have some of the longest life-spans due to our medical science, and our closets are overflowing with clothing. Yet we're spiritually poor, blind, and naked just like the Laodiceans because we've become apathetic towards God and our neighbor and we've forgotten about the welfare of those less fortunate.

Companies drive themselves into spiritual bankruptcy when they pursue profits at any price forgetting about the people who helped make those profitsOur lifespans are getting shorter because we're working ourselves to death in pursuit of material wealth. We've become spiritually blind to the sufferings of the world by looking the other way when we see poverty, homelessness, chronic unemployment/under-employment,  corporate greed/dishonesty, and government inaction.

The solution to our society's spiritual poverty, blindness, and nakedness is to change our paradigms. Companies must stop maximizing "shareholder" value and instead maximize "stakeholder" value by spreading the wealth around. They could start by paying their workers a living wage and sharing their profits; if they did they'd prosper even more materially and spiritually. If they'd stop trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes our society would have more revenue to address society's ills such as chronic homelessness and poverty.

If each of us would keep our priorities straight by putting God first, others second, and ourselves third we'd live more meaningful lives. If we'd each do our part to take care of the disenfranchised and marginalized in our society, we'd become spiritually rich beyond our wildest dreams. The works of corporal mercy are to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and welcome the stranger, visit the sick, visit and ransom the captives, and to bury the dead.

Finally in Revelations 3:20 when Jesus says, "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." he's simply asking each of us to let him into our hearts and lives by repenting and changing our ways. We routinely invite our family and friends into our homes to eat with us; Jesus too wants to have an intimate relationship with us and he's knocking at our heart's door asking to come in. Jesus can change our lukewarm indifferent hearts so that we'll no longer pursue futile material wealth but true and lasting spiritual wealth through our love of God and our neighbor. 

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