Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reflection on Matthew 5:38-48

I think that by now most of us have seen that amazing photograph stemming from the protests in Egypt that portrays Christian protesters linked, hand-in-hand, circling and protecting the Muslim protesters as they set their bodies toward Mecca in prayer. The Christians, in effect, created a human shield that would block those in prayer from any harm.  The photograph is amazing and it strikes us as a rare gift of love on the part of the Coptic Christians.  However, this was not the first time that something like this has happened in Egypt.

Some time ago, another photo was taken in Egypt.  The photo was not as popular and did not spread around the Internet in any viral way, but it is not any less powerful.  It portrays Muslims circling around Coptic Christians while the Christians gathered for Christmas Eve worship just after the New Years Day bombing of Coptic Christians. It is an amazing photo, because among the Muslims protecting the Christians are women and children. They had decided to create a human shield that would protect the Christians against a regime that hated the Coptics.

As we in the West stare at these two photographs, we cannot help but think that they might make ideal posters for Jesus’ message: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

It looks like an example of loving your enemies to Westerners because Westerners, in general, have been convinced by friends, political pundits, some Christian leaders, and maybe even our own experience that Christians and Muslims are to be enemies.

However, in Egypt this generally is not true. In Egypt, most Christians and Muslims are friends.  With a bigoted regime aside, most Christians and Muslims in Egypt would never consider each other enemies.  Most Egyptians say that any haterd between the two groups either stems from the regime, or it is a foreign hatred leaking onto their soil from the outside.

So, this leads me to wonder, if Muslims are not the enemies of Christians in Egypt, then must they be our enemies in the West?  I am not certain that anyone is inherently an enemy of anyone else.

I recall my enemy in late elementary school: Rich (the name has been changed to protect the guilty).  He was the class bully and was the enemy of the entire class, including me. There was not much that our class could agree on, but one thing was that Rich was to be uniformly hated. I was fine with this arrangement, except for one small problem, there were times when I actually liked the guy. For some insane reason, I invited him to stay the night once in my home. To my surprise, we had a blast playing in the woods and jumping over the creek. During our adventures, I learned that his Father was constantly on his case, pushing him around, literally.

This story does not have an amazing end.  The day together changed nothing at all. Following the night, he was still horrible in school. I can recall wanting to believe that he was a monster; an enemy. However, there was one problem; I knew better. I knew he was a person who suffered and desired to be loved by his father, like the rest of us.

In Rich's story, and in the Egyptian photographs, we see the world as God sees the world.  It is a world full of people who God loves. God makes the "sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" alike. Maybe God does this because our enemies are not necessarily God’s enemies. Maybe God cares for the good and the bad alike because God sees them the same: as children that God loves and desires to redeem.

I ask, what Father wishes for their children to wander far away? And, what Father, when their child has wandered far away, does not wish for someone to befriend them, turn them around, and send them back?  I have the sneaking suspicion that God wants us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” because when we do that we see them as our brothers and sisters who need to our love and prayer.

Loving our enemies is really what turning the other cheek is all about. Turning the other cheek is not a warrant that allows others to abuse us. The truth is that when a right handed person strikes you on the "right" cheek it must be done with the back hand.  This is a slight against you meant for an inferior.  But, when you offer the other cheek, the right handed aggressor must slap you with an open hand.  Not only do you force a person to do more damage than they first intended, but you also make them hit you with a slap intended for equals (the open-handed slap).  In other words, a person is forced to consider you as an equal, a fellow person. This offers them the opportunity to reconsider their actions.  By offering the other cheek you are doing none other than treating your enemy the way you would want to be treated; as a lost person who is worthy of being turned around.

This care for the enemy reminds me of President Abraham Lincoln near the end of the American Civil War.  In a speech, the President was heard speaking kindly about "our southern brothers" An older northern woman chastised him after the speech saying,

"Should we not destroy our enemies?"

Abraham Lincoln wisely responded, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I consider them my friends?”

Abraham Lincoln spoke the truth that Christ embodied; love of the enemy. On the cross, Jesus died to free the world.  On the cross, Jesus died to free the enemy.  And, because you have been freed, you are also free to love your enemies as a brother and sister.  You are free to do this, because in Christ they are your brother and sister.

No comments: