Monday, March 2, 2020

The Wedge That Divides – Or Unites. It’s Our Choice

A friend recently sent me a wedge. Actually, it’s a shim – a thin piece of wood used in construction to fill a space, push things together, or keep them apart. I remember the builders using wedges/shims when they were installing a granite countertop in our kitchen.

The reason my friend sent the shim was to serve as a reminder of how a wedge can either force things closer together – or separate them. We see the positive and negative effects of wedges every day in our society. Unfortunately, for the most part they’re not being utilized to bring people closer. 

We see it in the news and entertainment media, as well as politics – influencers determined to accentuate our differences, to the point of conflict, rather than remind us of things we share in common. As a result, we live in a world perhaps more polarized than ever. Civil conversations between differing parties have become nearly impossible. The social wedge-makers seem to be succeeding in their objectives to push us apart.

But they’re not the only ones using wedges. We see them at work in churches, where rifts over even the most inconsequential things can create great divisions. In the work world, where people teaming up together generally can accomplish the most good, wedges instead can cause strife and dissension, reducing performance and productivity. 

It’s fair to say Jesus Christ viewed Himself as a “Wedge” of sorts, in both senses of the word. He spoke about there being a time for separating people, as well as a time to seeking to bring them together. 

In addressing people who wanted to follow Him, Jesus was uncompromising. His assertions might have caused many to wonder if they were hearing Him correctly. “Say what?” For instance, the Lord declared that His followers had to be all in; no room for the half-hearted or double-minded: 
“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27, NLT).

Jesus wasn’t demanding that His followers literally despise those close to them, but He required total commitment, even to the point of putting Him ahead of their own desires and ambitions. "And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). 

Undoubtedly, those were hard words for many to accept. However, this “wedge” of separation would ultimately serve to bring His people together. Which is why Jesus told them, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

The apostle Paul wrote about how mutual devotion to the Lord could serve as the kind of wedge that brings accord. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2).

But there was one more area where Jesus instructed His followers about the “wedge principle,” one that sounds just as unorthodox and counterintuitive today as it did then. With political parties – and candidates – seemingly bent on destroying one another through a war of words, as well as combative actions, Jesus insisted we’re to do just the opposite.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). Love our enemies? We’re tempted to respond, “Are You kidding me?” 

But Jesus wasn’t being misquoted; He emphatically said it more than once, just in case we missed it the first time:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27,35-36).

This might have sounded like a new, revolutionary concept, but actually was reflective of a principle introduced in the Old Testament. We find it in Proverbs 25:21-22, which says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Similar to what we find today, the society in which Jesus ministered consisted of people at odds with one another, ranging from the Roman government to religious leaders to ethnic groups. No wonder many recoiled at the notion of loving their enemies. Nonetheless, Jesus didn’t waver.

While serving as President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln came to the same conclusion. He expressed it another way: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” As Jesus did, Abe understood the same wedge utilized to divide people could also be used to unite them.

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