Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 17 February 2015

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’.  But I say to you, Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?”  Matthew 5:43-46 NRSV

I must admit I have been tossing this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount around in my head since the latest ISIS video came out showing the beheading of Coptic Christians.  I was extremely disturbed at the video released earlier showing the captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive while trapped in a cage, and I have seen other videos of the mass beheadings of so many others.  Maybe I am a glutton for punishment, but I simply cannot wrap my mind around such brutality.  Even in my former life I could easily hate someone with a red-hot passion, but I never experienced such a level of hatred that I could even imagine physically brutalizing someone so mercilessly.

We are dealing with an enemy that has changed all the rules of warfare (as if war itself can somehow be humane or civilized).  In order for these terrorists to be successful, they need to horrify and thus attempt to weaken the resolve of those who would oppose them.  “Terrorism” counts on such horror because they know it often works.  Many would much rather attempt to appease such men than to risk the possibility of a loved one falling into their hands.

The fact remains, however, that these people cannot be appeased – frankly, I’m not even sure they wish to be appeased.  Peace cannot be negotiated because it does not seem to be peace terrorists are seeking.  In fact it seems the only thing they will be satisfied with is if the western powers leave the Middle East entirely so they can obliterate Israel (or so they think).  

They are clearly “enemies”, and they are perfectly happy in that role.  So how do we deal with someone who does not incidentally fall into the role of “enemy” but rather seems to take some perverse pleasure in their purposeful and brutal treatment of their own “enemies”? 

The people of Israel were dealing with a rather brutal enemy during the time of Jesus.  The Roman Empire often dealt harshly with them as a means to control the masses, so it would seem Jesus was speaking within this context.  “Do not resist an evildoer” (vs 39). 

And this, I think, is where we find out where our allegiances are.  If we demand an “eye for an eye”, what are we really seeking; revenge or justice?  This is important for the faithful to discern because the “eye for an eye” is, in fact, written in The Law (Exodus 21:24); but it has nothing to do with vengeance.  It is part of an evolving legal system in which it is required that the punishment must fit the crime.  Those who would impose a sentence must be as impartial as they can possibly be.  Those who would hand down a sentence must contain their passion, and those who have been harmed must allow the legal system to work as it can.

So “eye for an eye” is a legitimate requirement within the Law, and Jesus is not dismissing the Law!  He is speaking to something that goes much deeper, for we are also reminded (assured?) that “Vengeance is Mine, says The Lord; I will repay!”  (Deuteronomy 32:35)

The bottom line is, in a word, trust.  Do we trust The Lord?  Do we believe He “will repay”?  Or do we somehow believe we can see something or know something The Lord does not know or cannot see?  For faith (which is profound trust) requires much more than to simply believe we will be “saved” on the Last Day.  Faith demands our unqualified trust in the Word of The Lord in our daily living.  Jesus never said it would be easy! 

But those who live by their own brutal treatment of their fellow human beings will be judged.  This we must trust; this we must believe in, for it is also written, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”.  This applies to everyone, including those who would seek vengeance and not true justice.

None of this is to suggest our own government must “turn the other cheek”, for a legitimate government “wields the sword” for a Divine purpose: to keep order and to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Yet come what may, Jesus challenges us to trust Him regardless of how things may play out. 

Do we?



No comments: