Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Post #163 - Encountering the "Other"

"Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens…" (Ephesians 2:19)

"The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth." (Sultan Bin Salmanal-Saud, astronaut)

William E. Hull
We are often tempted to draw lines. Quarantine off the sick, so the healthy can stay healthy. Pluck out the bad apples, to save the rest of the barrel. But, as William E. Hull, a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, has written (in “Let Them Grow Together,” Christian Ethics Today, Spring 2007), the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) cautions against this. When it comes to moral judgments, Hull asserts, Jesus counseled against trying to separate good wheat from bad weeds prior to the harvest. He did this in order to let us know that many judgments must be left to God; that in attempting our well-intentioned sorting, we may do unanticipated damage. He quotes Robert Farrar Capon (in Parables of the Kingdom) as saying: "...the enemy [the devil]...has to act only minimally on his own to wreak havoc in the world; mostly he depends on the forces of do his work...Goodness itself, if it is sufficiently committed to plausible, right-handed, strong-arm methods, will in the very name of goodness do all and more than all the evil ever had in mind." Hull goes on:

"One of the greatest threats to human survival today is a creeping fundamentalism in the culture of every major world religion that would absolutize its understanding of good and evil to the point of justifying violence in the name of the sacred... [Jew, Christian or Muslim] they are all united with the field hands of old in saying, “Let's pull up and destroy the bad weeds we don't like in order to protect the good wheat that we have.” And it all sounds so sensible, even “godly,” until we realize how many weeds of bigotry, prejudice, and hatred are sown by such misguided zealotry...
"Do these [conclusions] imply that we are to be moral pacifists who fail to oppose evil until the weeds overwhelm us? No, “let both grow together” (v. 30) is the imperative of our text. We are not to give up sowing good seed and let bad seed take the field...we are to be busy growing an ever stronger faith that can more than hold its own even in a weed-choked field...But what about the weeds that never seem to change? God will know best what to do with them."

Jim Forest, author of Ladder of the Beatitudes, Praying with Icons and other books of faith-based scholarship and insight, is the head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and a good friend. Jim has written about “the reality of enmity” and its reflection in the scriptures. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies; bless those who curse you...” (Matthew 5:44), says Forest, He was addressing a community who knew something about suffering and persecution. At that time, “There was no concept of human rights. Torture and crucifixion were not rare punishments.” His guidance was “not a teaching that...would have been easily embraced by the suffering people who were listening to him...When we talk about Christ's commandment to love one's enemies, the beginning point is the recognition that we have enemies and that evil deeds occur every minute of the day.” Yet, the example of Christ, in so many different contexts is crystal clear, in his forbearance, his forgiveness, his healing. “Healing,” writes Forest, " another word for peacemaking. Peacemaking is the healing of damaged or broken relationships. On one occasion an act of healing was done in response to an appeal not from a fellow Jew, but from an officer of the Roman occupation forces, the centurion who appealed to Jesus on behalf of a critically ill servant...
"Love is not the acquisition of pleasant feelings for an enemy...Love is to do what you can to preserve another life and to bring that person toward salvation...God's like the sun shining on both the just and the unjust...
Jim Forest, Alkmaar, The Netherlands
"I'm talking now about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – not the Gospel according to Hollywood. The latter provides us with a never-ending parade of stories about evil people killed by good people. The basic story tempts us to prefer heroism to sanctity, or to confuse the two. A basic element of the Gospel according to Hollywood is that the evil people are so evil that there is no real solution short of hastening their death. Confronted by such pure evil, what else can one do? But the teaching of Christ is not to kill enemies but to overcome enmity."

Forest told an audience in Belgium in 2005: "The reality is that we are brothers even if we are divided from each other as Cain was from his brother Abel. It is because we are brothers and sisters that Christ taught us to say the words 'Our Father...' There is no other kind of warfare than fratricidal warfare."

(More on this subject in my next post.)

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