Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Path to Peace

We continue this morning in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain,” which we began last week with Luke’s blessings and woes. Today we have the heart of the sermon.

And we have a hard, radical teaching of Jesus to come to terms with today: his teaching on loving our enemies. It’s a hard enough teaching to put into practice, but sometimes it’s difficult even for us to grasp in our minds, because it’s so different than our usual way of behaving with one another. I’ll give you an example:

In the parish I lived in before I joined the Order, I used to volunteer as a Confirmation class teacher. One night, I used the time-worn pedagogical technique of the “trick question.” So I went to the blackboard and I wrote, “Do unto others as they do unto you.” And I asked the kids, what do you call this statement I’ve just put on the board?

Well one of them took the bait and answered, “‘do unto others as they do unto you,’ that’s the ‘golden rule.’” And I said, “Aha! It’s not at all! But it is the rule that the wisdom of this world teaches us to live by. The real rule, at least in the formulation Luke offers us today is, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” which is quite a different thing entirely.

Our world runs on the first version, “do unto others as they do unto you,” the one I used to trick my students. It’s the rule of ordinary reciprocity. You help me, I help you. I give you good service, you come back again. Those who are good to me, I try to be good to them so as to keep their friendship and good graces. When I need help I know I should go to those who have been helpful to me in the past.

I love those who love me; I try to be good to those who are good to me. All this is natural, and it’s the way this world goes ‘round. It’s the way things get done, through relationships of mutuality and trust and proven reliability. But though behaving in this way might make me a decent person, it doesn’t make me a disciple of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus says, “if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Sinners love those who love them.” And if you give to those whom you know are going to return the favor, what credit is that to you?

The Lord invites us to take the next step: To love those who hate us, to be generous with those who can’t return our kindness, and even to those who just won’t. And let me tell you, this is the only way to real peace in this world.

Everyone wants peace. We want peace for the conflicts and estrangements in our families. We want peace for the violence in our cities. We want a path to peace in Iraq, that’s for sure. So if we all want peace, what’s the problem? Why is peace so elusive?

The trouble is, for many people, and certainly for our politicians, they don’t know what peace is. They think of peace as just the absence of conflict; it’s just the lack of any difficulties and problems that keep us from our own selfish goals and projects.

But real peace isn’t just the absence of war! Real peace is an active, powerful force! In fact it is the love and presence of God itself. When Jesus says, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well” he is not painting a picture of a sheepish victim, of someone who is just inviting more injury, as if being hit were a good thing.

On the contrary! To turn the other cheek is to present active and forceful peace to those who are violent toward us. It is to say, ‘yes, you have hurt me, and yes, you are violent, but I will not let your violence make me violent. I will not be tricked into continuing this cycle of violence that scars our families and our cities and our world.’ The power of violence lies in its ability to reproduce, like a virus. Somebody hurts us, we retaliate. The abused becomes the abuser. But if we stop the cycle of violence in our own selves, we rob it of its power.

And what else is this but Christ crucified? There he is, victim of all the hate, and violence and condemnation this world has to offer, and how does he respond? By rising from the dead and returning, for all of the anger heaped upon him, newness of life and joy for all in the Resurrection.

David, the greatest of the kings of Israel, offers us another model in the first reading. He is at war with Saul, whom even God judged not a very good king. In a tactical coup David comes upon Saul and his men sleeping. And yet he doesn’t kill him. He says, this is the king whom God anointed king of Israel, and who am I to kill the Lord’s anointed?

The anointed are those whom God has chosen. In Greek, the word for “anointed” is Christos. Jesus Christ is the anointed one, and like David he is king of Israel, and indeed king of the whole world. And we are anointed too, because we are baptized into the body of Christ. That’s why we’re called Christians, because we are baptized into the Christos, the Anointed, Chosen One of God.

In a sense, because in Jesus Christ God has joined the divine life to all human nature, every person, Christian or not, has some of the anointing of the Lord, some of the Christ in them. Every human life is sacred because every human life is mysteriously connected to the love of God in the humanity of Christ. Every human life is anointed of God.

So with David, we look at each other and say, even if this person hurts me, mistreats me, or hates me, who am I to be angry or to hurt the Lord’s anointed?

If we want peace in this world, we have to do more than just put up with and tolerate and co-exist with our enemies. We must actively and forcefully love them. To know how to get along is great. It makes us decent people. But if we want to be Christians we must do more, and overcome violence with love and the active power of gentleness.

(7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

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