The stories coming out of Manchester, England are horrific. Scenes of children and young teens mutilated, bleeding, and dying because of irreconcilable hated are printed indelibly on our hearts and minds. Amidst the death and destruction however are also the stories and images of those daring individuals who ran into the fray; gathering children and helping them to find their parents, first responders who ran headlong into the chaos with the purpose of saving lives. I was recently reminded of a quote from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In this scene of hate-filled destruction there is a message for those of us who dare to call ourselves Christian. The message is that we are called to go into the fight not run away. It is the role of those who claim the call of Christ to be the helpers who run into the melee, not away from it.
To put it into more theological terms we are called to be bearers of light. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do we light a lamp and cover it. Rather, we boldly step into the madness with words of hope and actions of grace and mercy.
There is absolutely no excuse for the hatred that breeds random violence. Someone must stand for peace with justice. Someone needs to run into the fight and declare, “no more!” Of course, it is much more complicated than simply shouting “stop!” But the children of God are called to be bearers of light in the darkness of brutal hatred. To bear the name of Christ is much more than a title or a statement of church membership. We call Lord the one who claimed to be the light of the world. It is impossible to claim Jesus as Lord and hide behind a veneer of pious, meaningless platitudes.
The Prologue to the Gospel of John states: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John1:5). The only way to overcome the darkness that surrounds us is to run into the fight, not only proclaiming peace with justice; but practicing peace with justice.
One is forced to ask the question, “how?” How do we bear the light of Christ’s presence in the midst of mindless brutality? What does it mean to practice peace with justice?
Luke 10 may be helpful. Having been asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the interrogator’s question back on him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commends the response: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
This begs the unspoken question, “If you know this why aren’t you doing it?” Hence, the lawyer feels the need to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
The answer is well known as the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story requires little retelling. Briefly, a traveler is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Passing by the scene both a priest and a Levite hurriedly rush by the injured traveler. It is a Samaritan, an outcast and outsider, who crosses the road, applies first aid, and transports the victim to a safe place.
This well known story addresses the “how?” The answer is both simple and complex. Simply put, it means crossing to the other side of the road and doing the practical acts that save lives. It becomes difficult when we are faced with the reality of stepping into harm’s way to help a stranger. We find it easy to support and love those who are like us, but the parable is about an age-old enemy who dares to step into unfamiliar territory and offer aid and comfort to a potential aggressor. We don’t excuse the atrocity. We rise above it.
Boldly crossing into the enemy’s camp is incarnating what Jesus meant when he proclaimed, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27). We would like to be able to spiritualize that saying away. It isn’t practical. It isn’t safe. No, it isn’t practical and it isn’t safe. It is however the way of the cross. Sorry folks, but it is time to stop memorizing scripture without living it. It is time to examine the life of Jesus as it was actually lived; not as we wish it could be. If we can do this honestly, we find a teacher who was unafraid of his enemies and in fact, put himself in harm’s way when it could easily have been avoided. To bear the “light” is to walk into harm’s way to practice love for an enemy. Again, we do not excuse the atrocity. We rise above it.
This speaks to the phrase used above “peace with justice”. A form of peace can be enforced. It is possible to legislate or impose peace. The “Pax Romana,” the peace of Rome, is an example. The peace of Rome was enforced by the sword. As long as one obeyed the laws, paid taxes, and worshipped the emperor all was well. This may be peace, but it is not peace with justice.
Peace with justice is the peace that comes from loving God and neighbor. Peace with justice has to do with treating others better than they deserve. It is a far cry from the peace of Rome which is brutally enforced by martial law. Peace with justice is daring to cross to the other side of the road when the safe thing to do is keep moving. Peace with justice is comforting a frightened child or dressing an enemy’s wounds. Peace with justice rejects revenge in favor of reconciliation.
I would not presume to have the answer to the violence that plagues the world in which we live. Far better minds than mine have failed horribly at the task. One can however, be assured that violence begets violence, vengeance opens the door to greater atrocities. How naïve to proclaim, “all we need is love” but we need the light that overcomes the darkness. The light is found in running into the fight, not away from it. We run into the fight incarnating patience, justice, and mercy.
“In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).