This blog is impacted by the events in Charlottesville, South Carolina this past week.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26 ESV)
What is it about this teaching that we don’t understand. This week’s events in Charlottesville, South Carolina disturb and frustrate me. If it had happened closer to me or to people I know then I would be angry. It is difficult to respond to what Jesus says because my natural response is not consistent with what Jesus is teaching.
It is important to understand that Jesus spoke these words at a time when the Romans exercised authority over the Jews. Within the Jewish community brothers and sisters disagreed about how to respond. When Bonhoeffer wrote his commentary, the Nazis were in power and were instructing the church to participate in the persecution of the Jews in their community. This opened a division within the German church. It does seem that we have a bias toward focusing on differences along with a desire to be superior and separate ourselves from others.
True knowledge of the law lies solely in knowing Christ to be the Lord and the fulfiller of the law. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer repeatedly makes this point. To be a Christian is to be a Christ follower, to be in relationship with Christ and then to do what Jesus does. I just read Matthew 23 where Jesus speaks truth to the Pharisees about their relationship with God and the law. A few days later Jesus will die on the cross for these very same Pharisees. His words are harsh, but I believe Jesus’ motivation was to try to open their eyes so that they could have a relationship with Him and His Father. It would seem that our only hope for getting past the differences which we use to separate us is to find ourselves as one in Jesus.
The protection of God’s command extends not only to brothers and sisters who belong to the church-community but beyond. This is clearly shown by the fact that the actions of a follower of Jesus do not depend on the other person’s identity, but only on him whom the disciple follows in obedience. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is challenging. I want to classify everything. I think I can see, so I act based on what I see or what I have experienced. So, I draw close to some and distance myself from others. I have my tribe and yet it seems that tribes go against all Jesus stands for. The question about neighbor and Jesus’ response indicate how He felt about racial barriers.
Alienating oneself from another person causes alienation from God. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I believe this is true. When we are unwilling to forgive and then to work toward reconciliation I believe that we lack understanding of what Jesus has done for us. In light of current events, how do we reconcile? How do we break down these barriers that we thought had gone away? Responding with anger and violence isn’t working. Protests call attention to the issues separating us, but seem to increase the distance between angry parties rather than moving us closer to reconciliation.
A couple of suggestions for further reading. The first is the response of a pastor’s wife in Charlottesville. You can read her thoughts here. The second is the cover article in this month’s Christianity Today magazine and talks about the importance of monuments, especially monuments that help us remember the evil in our past. You can read it here.