Finally, a Gospel that says it’s O.K. if you destroy your enemies. . . as long as you do it Jesus style. . .
Our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, was often criticized for being too polite and accepting of his enemies and was often told that he had a solemn duty to destroy them. To this, Lincoln responded by asking, “Do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?” It seems that Jesus’ disciples want to destroy their enemies the old-fashioned way; they wanted to nuke those Samaritans by commanding “fire to come down from heaven and consume them.”
Enough can’t be said about just how much the Samaritans were hated by the Jews in Jesus’ Day. After their return from Babylonian captivity, the Israelites worked to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple, while the Samaritans built a rival temple. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as their greatest enemies. To the Jews, the Samaritans were thought of as the lowest of heathens, and that is why the Samaritans would not receive Jesus’ disciples, because Jesus had his face set toward Jerusalem. It doesn’t seem like a life and death disagreement does it, but to First Century Israelites it was.
So why did Jesus rebuke them? Why didn’t Jesus say, “Yeah, go ahead and call as much fire down on them as you can? The answer to that lies deep within Jesus’ philosophy of radical inclusivity. I mean why was Jesus headed toward Samaria in the first place. Most Jews would have walked many miles out of their way to walk around Samaria. It seems that Jesus never met a boundary or a border that he didn’t want to erase. This isn’t the only time that Jesus wandered into Samaria. There was the time in the Gospel of John when he sat at the well with a woman in Samaria in the brightest part of the day. The disciples were clearly uncomfortable, but Jesus was not deterred. He blurred two boundaries in that story. Not only was there the boundary of crossing into Samaria, but there is also the boundary of gender. A teacher in Jesus’ day would not have been seen discussing theology with a woman, much less a Samaritan woman.
Just last week we read about Jesus in the region of Garasenes. Garasa was one of the Ten Towns known as The Decapolis on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was Gentile territory, but that didn’t deter Jesus. He visits the Decapolis more than once. Jesus purposely goes to areas where Jews don’t go and then treats the people there with respect and dignity. I believe if you had to pin Jesus’ message down to one idea, it would be this. Jesus would want us to erase boundaries between countries, between gender, between sexual orientation, between gender identity and any other boundaries you can think of that exist in our neck of the woods.
Blurring boundaries for Jesus doesn’t just mean tolerating people on the other side of the blurred boundaries, it means loving them just as you love yourself. One of the most radical things Jesus ever said was “love your enemies.” Aren’t enemies supposed to be exactly those you are NOT supposed to love? But Jesus believed thousands of years before Abraham Lincoln that you destroy your enemies when you love them, not by casting fire down upon them.
Whenever I think of Jesus saying, “ love your enemies,” I can’t help but think of Corrie Ten Boom. Her family had all died in the Nazi concentration camps. Their crime? Hiding Jews in their home. Somehow Corrie survived. The war had ended, the camps had been liberated, and Corrie was speaking in various churches, sharing about God’s love and faithfulness, even amid horror. She writes in her best-selling book, “The Hiding Place”:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said, ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’ His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me, and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.” But she did finally take his hand and what she writes next is astounding.
“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so, I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Think about that the next time you feel estranged from a friend because of something they said to you or about you. Think about it if you are angry with a family member over something you can’t even remember. Think about it when you are ready to curse another driver on the road because they made a mistake. Think about it next time you are disturbed because somebody worships their God differently than you worship yours.
For Jesus, boundaries were only made by convention, so stepping over them and offering a hand of friendship is the best way to eliminate any enemies on the other side of that boundary. They may not love you back for a while, but God will fill the void because you are doing God’s will as demonstrated by Jesus in today’s Gospel, and time and time again in other Gospels as well.
When Jesus sat at that well with a Samaritan woman, she was surprised that Jesus would even ask her for a drink, because Jews ordinarily wouldn’t even drink out of the same vessel as a Samaritan. Not only is the Samaritan Woman a member of a rejected race, but she is doubly rejected by her own people because she had five husbands that probably divorced her because she became unattractive to them. It’s true, that was sufficient reason for a man to divorce a wife, but a wife had no authority to divorce a man.
Normally, no one went to the well in the middle of the day in Israel, especially in the drier region of Samaria. It was a task that was generally done in the cooler, early morning, but you see, if she had gone then, she would have had to face the ridicule and sneering of people who would always be happy to look down on those less fortunate than themselves.
Christian Churches are wellsprings of spiritual nourishment, but I must wonder, how many out there don’t come to the well in the early morning hours because they can’t face the perceived embarrassment. And how many sit beside the well in one of our pews, but carry a large measure of pain and rejection in their hearts?
In 1985 there was a unique celebration in the city of New Orleans. It was a celebration at the municipal pool. The mayor and the city council wanted to honor the city’s life guards because it was the first summer in memory that had passed with NO drownings in that pool. Two Hundred people showed up for that party, nearly half of them were certified lifeguards. They had a great time, but as the party began breaking up, and the crowd cleared away, someone noticed a body lying face down in the deep end of the pool.
Jerome Moody, age 31, had drowned in a pool surrounded by nearly 100 certified lifeguards. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Could it be possible that right in the middle of the Body of Christ on a Sunday morning, with all the certified lifeguards, the priest, the deacons, the wardens, the vestry, the choir and all the leaders, could someone still be drowning? Who is out there in the world, or perhaps sitting in our pews that is that desperate, that just needs someone to blur a boundary and step over it, to be accepted enough and loved enough to share their pain and to drink from the well of everlasting life?
I would like to close this reflection with a true story that just happened this morning. I have a good friend who is a writer, publisher, and web designer. I went to his blog page this morning and an article he wrote entitled “Day of Atonement” caught my eye (https://acwritings.com/lib/atonement.html). He opened that article by asking his reader to take ten minutes out of their day to listen to Kol Nidrei, a piece played at just about every Jewish temple in the world after sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. He provided a YouTube link where I could listen to the piece by an orchestra who played, not for a Jewish Temple, but for Pope John Paul ll at the Papal Concert at the Vatican in 1994. It was a concert to commemorate the Shoah (Holocaust), and it was the first official Vatican commemoration of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War ll. Now if you want to talk about stepping over a blurred boundary this is a stunning example. As with most YouTube videos there is a place to “like” the video and to leave comments. Since I was right in the middle of writing this reflection, one comment struck me powerfully. I had to take pause. The commentator wrote:
“It is the most moving “Kol Nidrei” video on YouTube! Every time I watch it my eyes are filled with tears, thinking about how the Church persecuted the Jews through the years, and about the enormous power of setting our differences aside, and coming together in reconciliation as mere humans. It’s Music and religion at its absolute finest.”
The Church still has much to work in the area of relations with the Jews, but at this concert in 1994 the Vatican blurred a boundary and made Jesus Christ very proud. We can make him just as proud in all the smaller ways we can blur boundaries in our everyday lives. So, let’s stop wanting to call down fire onto our enemies and destroy our enemies. . . with love!
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