Gary Fairchild, Church Partnership Team – Change the status quo—love your enemies.
Jesus encountered the most resistance when He insisted that God’s followers practice their religion in a way that challenged the status quo and affirmed life for the vulnerable.
Luke 6 opens with Jesus and his disciples walking through a grain field, picking and eating some of the kernels. “Why are your disciples doing what is wrong on the day of worship?” the priests asked. Jesus reminded his critics that David and his men were once refreshed by eating the sacred bread from the Tabernacle, which was normally reserved for the priests. “The Lord is the authority of the day of worship,” he said. Strict adherence to religious law would have maintained the status quo for vulnerable soldiers and for Jesus’ hungry disciples.
The next Sabbath, in the synagogue, faced by a man with a withered hand, Jesus challenged the priests, “Is it right to heal a man on the Sabbath?” Today, we assume the answer is obvious. We would say, “Of course!” It was right for David to eat the sacred bread and as it was right for the disciples to eat kernels of grain on the Sabbath. Not to heal the man because of religious law, when there was opportunity to do so, would have maintained the unacceptable status quo.
At the end of the chapter, Jesus moved from discussions of religious law to thoughts on the law of human nature. “What thanks should you get for loving those who love you already?” he asked, “Everybody does that. Should you be congratulated for lending money to your friends who you know can pay you back?” It was common practice and common sense to lend in this way but it would not help those in need. Common practice, religious or otherwise, would not change the status quo.
This is the context when Jesus says, “Love your enemies and be kind to those who hate you.” We can almost hear Him say, “Everybody hates their enemy— that’s common practice.” Hating your enemies maintains the terrible status quo but loving them changes everything.
Marcel is a Church Mobilizer in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who is working to bring peace to an area with a long history of war. The larger conflict started as small tribal disagreements. Before the recent fragile peace in Congo, a militia group known as M23 instigated chaos by inflaming one (Christian) tribe against another. In this situation, Marcel invited several hundred pastors, from different tribes, to attend a conference that extended over several days. The venue had simple accommodations. When they arrived, Marcel put each pastor in a room with a pastor from a different tribe. They were shocked to find that there was only one bed in each room! At first the pastors objected but Marcel held his ground and they, finally, conceded. The result was that by the end of the conference each pastor had a new friend from a different tribe who he had grown to love in the Lord.
After the conference, M23 tried to, once again, ignite the tribes against each other. This time, the pastors refused to cooperate with M23 against their Christian brothers of neighboring tribes. A potential conflict was avoided because the pastors were able to love those they once thought were their enemies.
Lent gives us opportunity to reflect on our religious traditions and practice. This year, let’s ask, “Does my spiritual and religious life challenge the status quo for vulnerable people? If not, how can I change that?”