Subtitle: Or do you think I’ve lost mine?
Prologue: In these days of heightened American rancor, with the heat of a presidential impeachment trial in the air, when our national temperature is elevated, our national temper raw, when our social fabric is riven by divisions, personal and political, when old friends, with the utterance of one more disagreeable word than tolerable, become new enemies, when I, as much as the next person, am given to the temptation to fall prey to the reigning, raging animus of these days, I have engaged in long conversations with Jesus about his teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone takes your coat, give your cloak as well…Love your enemies…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.38-39, 40b, 44a, 48).
Okay, Jesus, another night of little sleep.
Off and on, through the small hours of this morning, I wrestled with (what, at least, for me is) a conundrum: How do I love all people, including my enemies (seeing them as God sees them, seeking to understand them, striving to do good toward them) and, at the same time, aware that there are moments when, in the light of what I believe to be godly principles, stand up and oppose those whom I perceive to be violating those values?
Wondering, worrying, I kept waiting.
On one or two occasions, my head nodding in a somnambulant fog, I whispered, “Jesus, tell me something. Anything! Please!”
Then, right at the moment when I, finally, drifted into the arms of Morpheus, I heard a still, small voice repeating one word. One word only. “Love.”
Now, awakened on this new day, this is what I see.
Love, your love, Jesus, is to govern all of my being and doing. Even when I believe that on principle, your principles, Jesus, I must resist another person, love, your love is to rule my response.
And, now, I see that when I believe I am called to oppose another, it is not (never!) primarily because I think that I am right (even if…when I do think that!), but rather it must be (always!) because if I did nothing the soul of my fellow human being, even an enemy, might be harmed. Thus, in every way possible (even at the risk of appearing to others as arrogantly predisposed to champion my perspective), I am to act in your name for the sake of the other person, for whom, as for me, you laid down your life.
And, Jesus, you know and, now, I confess afresh to you that I know, too, I am stubbornly, selfishly self-willed. As such, I can do nothing of your will without your loving help. Therefore, I, with the words of John Donne, appeal to you, your and my God, and the Holy Spirit, to break me and to remake me that I, your servant, may be:
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new…
Endnote: From Batter my heart, three person’d God, Holy Sonnet 14 (c. 1618), John Donne (1572-1631)
Illustration: The Beatitudes (aka The Sermon on the Mount), James Tissot (1836-1902)