Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We might think our neighbors include family members, friends, people in our faith community, people in our geographic area. We may think of the people we choose to be around, to hang out with. We might suppose that our neighbors are our fellow citizens.
Then we recall a commandment of Jesus given much earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “love your enemies” (Mt 5:43-44). Jesus widens the circle of people we are to count as our neighbors. He makes the circle so wide that it breaks and dissolves until there is no longer a boundary, no longer a line separating our neighbors from everyone else. Jesus invites us — he commands us — to love beyond our boundaries, to love as God loves, to love everyone regardless of their status or behavior or appearance.
Therefore, the notion that we should put our nation first even if doing so harms or impoverishes others is not a Christian notion. A world view that puts us in competition with other peoples of the world, that pits us against them, is not a gospel-centered world view. The belief that we must maximize our gains at the cost of others is not the way to follow our suffering and risen Lord.
No nation is first in God’s eyes. No nation is first — unless there’s a nation out there made up entirely of refugees, widows, orphans, the poor, the destitute, the abused, the abandoned. If there were such a nation of vulnerable, fragile people out there, that would be the nation God would put first. After all, the people God put first centuries ago were the homeless slaves of mighty Egypt.
The instinct to be first is strong in us. Perhaps it is a holdover from our distant past, a deeply rooted instinct that enabled us to survive. But this instinct to be first, to have, to own, to possess at the expense of others and at the expense of our planet, is not the way of Christ. On the contrary, it is sinful, hurtful, and deadly.
Our Lord Jesus frees us from the hellish snares of trying to be first. He also teaches us to envision a world without boundaries, and he empowers us to love as God loves. We can accept what he offers us without fear, without worrying about whatever we’re clinging to because our salvation does not come at the cost of another’s. We don’t have to compete for a place in God’s kingdom. We don’t have to compete for God’s love. These are gifts God offers freely to everyone. If we persist in thinking that we should put ourselves first we will lose these infinite gifts forever.