Peace and Humility in the face of Injustice
Do you know where you were when you heard about or saw planes crash into the WTC buildings? I do. I was at home, in Raleigh, NC, getting ready to go to school. My dad was training to be a pilot at the time and my dad’s flight instructor called my house. My dad wasn’t home so I picked up. He said, “turn on the TV and watch the news.” And sure enough, there was one tower burning. And just as I was about to comment that it had to be some sort of hoax, the camera panned in on another plane that would crash into the second tower.
I don’t remember the immediate aftermath. I remember gathering in my school’s auditorium to sing, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Here’s how the song opens: “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” It continues, “he hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.” Its last verse ends like this: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free! While God is marching on.”
How old were you when someone bombed your country? I know it happened for some of you. I was young. I was too young to understand the significance and the consequences of responses. I was used to playground fights. You hit me. I hit you back. You steal from me, I steal from you. You destroy my things, I destroy yours. But you bomb my country. You kill my people. I will crush you like you were an ant under my boot. And God will march with me against you. That is what my country, my songs, my culture, my preachers, my media taught me. Eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. God is on my side to make me and everyone else free from the evil people in this world.
What an immature child I was. If only I had actually read the Bible rather than hearing Christianity interpreted through the lens of politics and economics. From God’s prophet Micah we hear: “Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.”
What a punch to the gut of my immature arrogance, of my self-exaltation and presumption to be led by God in supporting a war of revenge that I pretended was the equivalent of God’s justice. What a childish interpretation of God’s will.
Why do I judge myself so harshly here? Because my response, and the response of far too many of us when confronted with injustice - whether that’s in war, in our general cultural and social circles, online, dealing with various organisations and the people in them, in our workplaces, in our relationships, or in our churches - is to respond to that injustice out of our initial feelings rather than taking a more humble approach of considering something from many angles, understanding the background and history of a situation or someone’s own life, including from the perspective of our enemies; of asking the question: if God were standing in the midst of all of us - every single one of us he’s made - treating one another in this way, how might he react to save his children from each other?
How did Jesus respond when he was supposed to bring the Kingdom of God into the world and was threatened from his very birth all the way to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross? He did not presume that his will was a sufficient guide to bringing God’s Kingdom into the world. Instead, he sought to obey his Father’s will in the world. He sought to call out and expose the hypocrisy of those who claim to bring justice and peace - like the scribes and Pharisees in our Gospel this morning - but who instead seek only their own power and control over people and situations. He didn’t call these folks out to humiliate them though, but to stop people from acting in ways that exalt or perpetuate their own perspectives, that often tear down relationships and prevent others from opening up to God’s healing and transformation.
This doesn’t just go for personal relationships. Seeing God - rather than God reshaped through our own personal inclinations - can transform the lives not just of individuals, but of whole cities and nations. The spread of Christianity across Asia in the early centuries wasn’t based on conquering through money, ideology, war or political power. The spread happened because Christians going out into these lands spoke of Jesus not fighting, but of healing. And as they spoke, they acted to care for the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the sad, the scared, the orphans, the refugees and immigrants. They made it clear to those whom they encountered that unlike the political and social forces that serve only immediate interests, or unlike those who focus only on their own needs and will use others to get what they want, God’s love shouldn’t be confused for domination, coercion or control. Jesus is that love. A love that manifested in willing sacrifice for his friends and enemies in the face of fear, violence, and opposition. This is the love of God poured out for us, calling us to act toward others in his likeness. AMEN