Can you picture getting into heaven, and the first person you meet is the one you liked least on earth? After all, God loves that person just as much as he loves you. No one falls outside the scope of God’s loving intentions either. What God wants for you here on earth is what he also wants for your aggravating neighbour. It’s also what he wants for history’s worse tyrants – that they “be perfect, just as you heavenly Father is perfect.”
The first reading says something very similar. God tells the Israelites: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, our God, am holy.” In what does God’s holiness consist? In a word: love. In fact, the readings today speak of God’s boundless love and compassion for us, and God’s merciful forgiveness of our sins. Such a message is immensely consoling.
But there is a catch. We are called to be like God, to act as God acts. This means we are called to have so much love in our hearts that there’s no room for hatred, pettiness or revenge. Jesus spells it out in detail today. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!’ ‘Turn the other cheek!’ ‘Go the extra mile etc.’ These are bald statements that I think we would all like to water down. It’s not in our DNA to do this. However, it begins to make sense when we consider how hatred and bitterness and suspicion have gripped the human heart. Only the highest standard of love can counteract this.
There is a logic to love and there is a logic to hate. Hate and violence have spiralled over the centuries which has led to a stockpile of nuclear weapons today. Currently, there are over 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world. Out of 196 countries, only nine possess nuclear weapons. And more than 90% of the world’s nukes are owned by just two countries: The United States and Russia.
A 2014 report published in the journal Earth’s Future found that even a regional war of 100 nuclear detonations would produce enough black soot to block out the sun worldwide. This would produce a sudden drop in global temperatures that could last longer than 25 years and temporarily destroy much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer. This would also cause as much as an 80% increase in UV radiation on Earth’s surface and destroy both land and sea-based ecosystems, potentially leading to global nuclear famine. If that’s what 100 nukes can do why do we need another 14, 900? By any stretch of the imagination, this is absolutely crazy, yet that is the logic of hate and mistrust when it is given full rein.
A Cherokee elder was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me… it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, hatefulness, and lies. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, humbleness, kindness, friendship, generosity, faith, and truth.
Then he added, “This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too.” The children thought about it for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The Cherokee elder replied… “The one you feed.”
For far too long humankind has been feeding the wrong wolf leading us all the way to the brink of extinction. Jesus wants to counter all of this with his law of love. He is telling us that we all called by God to provide the world with an example of a different way of living life. Instead of waging war, or getting ready to wage war or waging war to make peace he wants us to wage peace. Where the motto seems to be: grab, grasp, exploit, Jesus wants us to be humble, peace-loving, even willing to turn the other cheek. We are called not just to be peaceful, but to actively work in a way that builds up peace, honesty, respect for the other and indeed for creation. To say we are Christians is to say that we have volunteered to wage peace in our homes, in our work, and in our world.
Today we are being faced with a choice. Do we want to invest in instruments of war or peace? At the moment, there is massive investment in instruments of war and weapons of mass destruction. But peace also needs the investment of time, energy, emotions, money, skills. If you want peace, justice, development, reconciliation; then these campaigns have to be waged and actively pursued. Whatever world we build, a world of warfare and conflict or a world of development and reconciliation, it is going to cost us. It is one’s vision of the whole creation that decides which is the correct choice.
From a purely material perspective, the choice is a no-brainer. Add a spiritual dimension and it’s even more incumbent on us to opt for the commandment of love. If we are made in the image of God then, like God, no one must fall outside our loving intentions. When Jesus speaks of the love of enemy, he isn’t asking us to nourish feelings of affection or sympathy or tenderness toward anyone who has done evil to us. The enemy continues being someone from whom we can expect harm, and it’s difficult for us to be able to change the feelings of our heart. But it does mean that we do not return evil with evil or wish him harm. That only adds to the downward spiral of violence. We need to remember that we are at our noblest and best when we forgive rather than when we rejoice at another’s misfortune.
Once again Pope Francis leads by example. Last week, he spoke about the hardships faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar who were being tortured and killed, simply because they wanted to live their culture and their Muslim faith. “They have been thrown out of Myanmar, moved from one place to another because nobody wants them. But they are good people. They are our brothers and sisters.” Make no mistake about it, the Pope is feeding the right wolf.
Sunday, 19 February 2017