This week I am teaching at our morning gathering of QBC and I chose this part of the sermon on the mount (Matt 5) as the focus of my reflections.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
I chose it intentionally because it’s confronting and ludicrously specific in how we are to respond to those who mistreat us, or with whom we are in significant conflict.
I also chose this passage a few days before Hamas did their terrorist thing in Israel. Which begs the question, how does this play out in situations where there is obvious and terrible violence being perpetrated and where to not retaliate may see further deaths and injury? Hamas have it as part of their charter to ‘wipe out Jews everywhere’, and that isn’t changing. If Israel put down their guns then they would be most likely giving up their lives.
Are we to take Jesus’ teaching to that extreme?
And of course I am aware that Israel have their share of responsibility for the animosity that exists between them and Palestine. But that isn’t the question I am pondering. Where I am struggling is to think of a Christlike response that ensures the best for both groups. A solution similar to the Irish ‘power-sharing’ agreement may work, where each side puts down their guns and seeks to work co-operatively. But it’s hard to envision it…
Was Jesus just off with the fairies the day he said these words? Did he have in mind that the Jewish people should respond to Roman oppression with love and prayer? Did he see this as applying purely to personal relationships? Or was he just speaking aspirationally? He finishes with the words ‘be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect’, so there is a degree of aspirational thinking at play here.
I wonder if we would be better off if he had left detailed instructions for dealing with International conflicts? Although I doubt we would follow those rules any more than these ones.
The application of ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’, is complicated in these international long term struggles. Hatred and suspicion has been so deeply entrenched in people’s thinking that it has become a way of life.
But I am left wondering how do we disentangle this terrible mess of animosity and hatred. Is it even possible?
‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’
You just made it sound really easy Jesus…
No reference to issues of justice or how to protect the innocent, just some unmistakeable instructions that sound way too absurd to have any bearing on reality. Or is it that we have moved so far from the kingdom of God in our way of being in this world that it is our thinking that is tainted and marred. Is it like trying to see a path forward when your windscreen is literally covered in mud?
As is his style, Martin Joseph a self declared pacifist sings a powerful song referring to the Russia / Ukraine conflict titled ‘I’d take you out’. He literally says that if he were left alone in a room with Putin and a gun he’d shoot him dead. ‘I’d lose my soul’, he sings, ‘But I’d take you out.’ I imagine your soul would take a serious toll if you were to kill another human being while trying to protect others. Bonhoeffer of course found himself in an assassination plot to rid the world of Hitler. Is this a better of two evils ethical issue?
If Jesus puts it out there then I can only believe that it is achievable, but maybe we just don’t want it that much. It’s easier to choose a side in a conflict and align with a group of powerful people. It’s harder to refuse to fight, to seek the best for the other and to pray for them, because then you get in the middle and you get hit from both sides.
If there were easy answers to these conflicts then we would have found them by now. Happy to hear your thoughts…