Thursday, September 27, 2018

Searching for Unity in the Midst of Hatred

Do you ever wonder what we would call our nation today if it were just being founded? On Sept. 9, 1776, the Continental Congress chose to name the country “the United States of America,” replacing the commonly used term, “United Colonies.” Even though there was not uniform agreement on every issue, the leaders and citizens of the new land were united enough on their desire for independence, to be freed from British rule.

These days, our nation seems not so much united as it is untied, even hopelessly divided, with opposing factions not only unable, but also unwilling to work toward any semblance of unity, or even compromise. But that’s to be expected, since both sides seem to harbor extreme dislike for each other. This is one of the reasons it’s so sad our culture has widely chosen to discount, even disparage, biblical teachings on how we’re supposed to get along with one another. 

Deep-seated animosity is hardly a 21stcentury invention – although these days people seem intent on perfecting it. King Solomon, in his timeless collection of wise observations, wrote, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but loves covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).

Everywhere we look, from the halls of the White House to hyper-vocal protesters on the streets, we see hatred manifested in abundance. The love part of the proverbial admonition, however, is conspicuously absent. It’s hard to promote unity without at least some commonly shared sense of respect and cordiality.

Here we can see why teachings of Jesus Christ were so revolutionary for His day – and remain unprecedented today. In His well-known “sermon on the mount,” Jesus offered this challenge which must have elicited a collective “Say what?!” from His hearers:

“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. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).

This flew in the face of Old Testament teachings that advocated vengeance and retaliation, such as, if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23-25).

Jesus had not forgotten this; nor did He choose to ignore it. Instead, He acknowledged past teachings and practices, urging His followers to embrace a different path: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person…” (Matthew 5:38-39).

Not much has changed over 2,000 years, has it? Hatred and vitriol are spewed with incredible zeal, even from some who can quickly quote the biblical declaration that “God is love.” It’s just as hard for us to love our enemies, to show kindness to those we perceive as evil, as it was for those who were listening to Jesus speak in person.

This was not a misquote, or a statement He made that was reported out of context. In fact, Jesus expanded on what He had said so there could be no misunderstanding:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 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 in merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).

Loving our enemies? Doing good to people who scheme against us? Performing acts of kindness for people in no position to ever return the favor? Who can do that? Who wants to do that? And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus expected of His followers then – and still does now. 

As He said in John  14:15, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Based on our attitudes and actions toward those with whom we disagree, whose beliefs and values seem diametrically opposed to our own, do we truly love Jesus? Would there be enough evidence to convict us?

What if we took His admonitions to heart and started putting them into practice? Now that would be revolutionary!

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