Today, being the nearest Sunday to the 6th August, we observe as World Peace Day. This is marked this day as it is also Hiroshima Day, the day when an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, followed a few days later by another dropped on the city of Nagasaki.
The bombings effectively ended World War II by bringing about the surrender of Japan, but at a terrible price – the two cities were destroyed and casualties, mostly civilians, were estimated at around 200,000, with many more people dying later from injuries and illness.
This day is now dedicated to world peace.
As Christians, we focus on the many aspects of peace that flow from God’s holy embrace of us. Peace in our lives, peace in our homes, peace in our relationships, peace in our community, peace in our country and peace in our world. We must consider what destroys peace and what mends peace. We remember that God wishes peace for us, a peace that must begin with each of us and one way how that might come about is spelt out in our gospel reading today, when along comes Jesus and says, “Love your enemies… If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that?...If you greet only your friends, what's so great about that?” So what are we to do? Do a favour for someone we don’t like? Pray God’s blessing on someone who is mean to us? Love someone who is unlovely?
Yes – these things seem to be exactly what Jesus is suggesting. To love those who mean us ill-will is to run counter to our natural inclinations.
Is it possible then, when we are feeling justifiably angry, and bitter, and hurt, for whatever reason, to act differently from what we feel?
Yes, it is. Even though it runs counter to all our natural inclinations. Jesus here encourages us to stop… and think of how we could creatively deal with someone who is antagonistic to us. Is there some gracious act, some act of kindness we could do for this person rather than thinking of evil. In so acting we unleash the power of heaven.
In and of ourselves only we really don’t have the resources to do such a thing. Which perhaps is Jesus’ point.
We need a strength stronger than ourselves. We need the Spirit of Christ to enable us to live as those who belong to Christ. This is all about what it means to live as a follower of Jesus: to seek to live the way that Jesus lived. “Always act like your Father in heaven” as it reads in Matthew 6.48. To live “the Jesus Way” means that we can show to the world the existence of a new and very different reign: the reign of God.
Consider the alternative as Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Jesus’ words are intended to impel his followers to put a stop to the cycle of revenge and spiralling hatred. They form the foundation of Christian pacifism. He asks us to love and pray for our enemies.
Who are the enemies that we are likely to be called to love?
Although we may not call them “enemies”, it could be the person considered “the black sheep” of the family, or that awkward woman on Vestry, or that person at work with the wacky religious ideas or with the extreme political views. We are called to initiate kind actions toward such people. When people mean us harm, we are to overcome evil with good.
But is there anyone on earth who would really suffer unkindness and humiliation and then act with grace?
Recently we have had the example of Nelson Mandela who, as a victim of South Africa’s Apartheid regime, spent twenty-seven years of his life in jail on Robben Island. On his release and election as President, instead of threatening revenge he became the champion of peace, reconciliation and racial tolerance.
And then there is the example of Jesus himself. When they drove nails through his hands and feet and left him to die on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem he prayed, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”. (Luke 23.43)
To initiate an act of kindness toward someone who doesn’t like us is so counter-cultural that it makes an impression. But make no mistake, it is very hard to do. As G.K. Chesterton said, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but found hard and not tried.”
When we follow this way of Jesus we will need to call on the strength that comes from him. To act in this way will have a greater impact on the world around us than anything we might say. And, according to our reading today, in this we show what God is like (Matthew 5.45).
So can anybody find me somebody to love?
- Well, that’s easy because those somebodies to love are all around us:
- Love those that love you, that’s good.
- Love your neighbour, that’s good too.
- Love your enemies and love those who mistreat you… now there’s something that we can really work on!
[Post image by Shahid Atiqullah]