Grieving our Enemies

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, 2 Samuel 17:24-18:8, Acts 22:30-23:11, Mark 11:12-26


After David won back the throne of Israel, it was a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

With master strategy and a bit of luck, David’s forces defeated the forces of his son Absalom, who had forced his father off the throne and into the wilderness.  David had instructed his soldiers to let Absalom live, but as with all violence the consequences were unpredictable and Absalom was killed. David was distraught and retreated into isolation to mourn. Joab, the captain of his army, eventually approached him to say, “Look, we saved your life and won you your kingdom back and now you’re acting like we’re nothing. Acknowledge your troops or they’ll abandon you by morning.”

David was deeply experiencing an inescapable truth: any victory through violence is also a failure. A failure of life, a failure of love, and a failure of peace. David felt this because Absalom was his child,  but every slain enemy is somebody’s child. Every slain enemy is still God’s child. Does that feel like something to rejoice about? While it’s natural to celebrate victory, we should remember we are called to do good to those who would persecute us. Demoralizing our foes doesn’t eliminate them; it alienates them further. Had the Allies not been so punitive following World War I and allowed all of Europe to recover economically, who knows how things might have turned out?

Seeing our as enemies as fellow children of God, let alone grieving for them, makes it much harder to justify violence against them. The people knew David had lost his beloved son, but even that relationship was not reason enough to allow grief to exist alongside victory. Its very acknowledgment offended them into claiming David would have preferred them all dead if it meant Absalom could have lived. Allowing someone to humanize the enemy forces us to face uncomfortable truths, so David had to be dragged from his mourning chamber.

Doing violence, even when it seems necessary, damages us. If we must contemplate it, let’s also remember every one of our enemies is loved by Christ.


Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s reading from Mark, see Our Neighbors, Our Selves.

Comfort: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. 

Challenge: Pray for your enemies – personal, national, and global.

Prayer: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Discussion: Have you ever learned to see an enemy as more than just an enemy?

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The Word and The Sword

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, 1 Samuel 9:1-14, Acts 7:17-29, Luke 22:31-38


After the Last Supper, Jesus tried explaining to the apostles yet again that terrible things were about to befall him and them. He also assured them he would not leave them unprepared. After all, hadn’t they survived – even thrived – when he sent them on the road to spread his message with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Now though, he said, it was time to take up their bags and purses and carry a sword, even if they needed to sell a cloak to buy one. When they pointed out the two already at hand, he told them, “It is enough.”

This idea of Jesus encouraging them to carry weapons really stands out among his teachings to turn the other cheek and love one’s enemies. Sometimes it’s used by people to justify Christians using violence, generally in self-defense but sometimes in more broad terms.

But there’s a greater context.

Jesus referred to a prophetic scripture from Isaiah  which needed to be fulfilled: “And he was counted among the lawless.” Moving from itinerant (if heretical) preacher and his followers to the leader of a party of armed insurrectionists had “lawless” covered. And only a short time later, when Peter actually used one of those swords to defend his messiah, Jesus commanded him to put it away, adding (in Matthew’s gospel), “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” And the Apostles were famous for their commitment to peace, not their handiness with blade, club, and fists.

We don’t have to assume a position of pacifism to understand Jesus’s advice to take up swords was not about condoning violence. On the other hand, while Jesus talked about loving and forgiving our enemies, he didn’t command us to surrender to them. Wherever our conscience takes us regarding violence and non-violence, we should remember that Christ is fully capable of defending himself or not as he chooses. Our fears never justify initiating violence in his name. To the contrary, times of fear are the times we most need to take a breath and ask ourselves how Jesus would choose to love.

Comfort: Jesus is with us in times of danger.

Challenge: When you must make decisions about violence, make decisions about love first.

Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts (Psalm 139:23).

Discussion: What are your feelings about the intersection of violence and faith?

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Things That Make For Peace

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, Song of Solomon 2:8-13; 4:1-4a, 5-7, 9-11, 2 Corinthians 12:11-21, Luke 19:41-48


Let’s consider these words from Jesus which he spoke as, weeping, he approached Jerusalem:

If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground […] because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.

This prediction came to pass about 40 years later when Rome crushed a Jewish rebellion and burned the temple. Interesting history, but history and prophecy also usually having something to say to us in the present if we really listen.

How are we failing to recognize “the things that make for peace?” Despite admonitions from Jesus to turn the other cheek and do good to those who persecute us, we remain adept at rationalizing violence, war, and revenge (masquerading as justice). Jesus said love your enemies and hate your family. When we decide which of his teachings were hyperbole and which he meant us to put into literal action, why don’t these ever seem to be the latter? The things that make for peace aren’t about correcting or controlling outside factors, but about making the personal sacrifices necessary for peace. If someone decides that means going off to war we write patriotic songs about it, but if another decides it means refusing to go to war (and risking imprisonment) we toss out slurs like coward and traitor. Following the Prince of Peace may not make us absolute pacifists, but we must face the emotional and physical violence we excuse – even celebrate – in our own lives.

Ignore the things that make for peace long enough, and when we need them they will be hidden from us in a blindness of our own choosing. The world has enough people, Christian and not, justifying why we don’t have to love self-sacrificially as Christ commanded. War and hate thrive regardless of whether we support or participate in them. Peace does not.

Comfort: Peaceful actions are a sign of strength.

Challenge: When you find yourself looking for reasons to justify violence, look just as hard for reasons not to.

Prayer: Prince of Peace, create in me a loving heart and thoughtful mind. Amen.

Discussion: When do you think violence is justified? How does that fit with your understand of Jesus’s teachings?

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Sax and Violence

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Judges 17:1-13, Acts 7:44-8:1a, John 5:19-29


Jazz musicians say the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do. In other words, a saxophone player improvising a riff is set apart by thoughtfully rejecting expectations and embracing alternative blank spaces.

The earliest Christians skipped a lot of notes.

Saint Stephen is widely recognized as Christianity’s first martyr. When he confronted the religious leaders of the Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem, Stephen reminded them how Israel had rejected the numerous prophets God had sent. He concluded by claiming Jesus was the latest, last, and worst example. The outraged leaders rushed him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him. Stephen’s last words were: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

What notes did Stephen skip? The ones that might have soothed the ears of the temple leaders. Though the tales provided a familiar framework, the unfamiliar presentation turned the Jewish people from the heroes of their own story into the villains. Jazz can elicit many emotions, including anger, but its message is for those who have ears to hear.

He also skipped notes of violence. Neither Stephen nor any apostles responded to violence or threats with anything but prayer, forgiveness, and further conviction to spread the gospel. This absence of retaliation was undoubtedly as conspicuous as entire bars of musical silence. We don’t have to build an argument for general pacifism to see that when the first Christians were about the business of representing Christ, they did so without violence or even the implication of it.

We are a culture accustomed to violence. The more closely we associate the church with government, the more blurred the line between the business of the world and the business of Christ becomes. But defending a nation or a home is not the same as defending the faith. Violence was not an option Christ chose; at the very least it should not be our first. We always have the option to strike a violent chord, but when we claim to be about the Lord’s work, it matters which end of the spear we are on.

Comfort: We follow the Prince of Peace.

Challenge: This week seek out news and media about non-violent solutions to issues which have traditionally involved violence.

Prayer: Lord of Love, may there be peace in my mind, peace in my heart, peace in my hands, and peace on my lips. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have any personal experiences with the transformative power of preaching the Gospel through peaceful means?

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