“Bless those who persecute you”: Showing goodwill to warlords and violent regimes
I recalled my 2018 visit to both Israel and Palestine as a Christian pilgrim. The tour guide was a Palestinian Christian who resided in Bethlehem, a city where Jesus was born and also part of the West Bank – in fact, his home was close to one of the borders of the occupied zones and he owned a Palestinian citizenship. When he shared of biblical events, there were times when the pilgrims would ask of the political conflicts between Israel and Palestine. Some of these questions, in a typical Asian demeanor, were insensitive to the outcomes of the conflict that have bruised the soul of both parties. However, he addressed it gracefully; he did not demonize the Israelis but hoped for a peaceful partnership between Israel and Palestine. He shown his maturity in light of the conflict. He was able to empathize with the plight of the Israelis who struggled with the trauma of the Holocaust while emphasized that the Palestinians are experiencing the trauma of the conflict that occurred.
This particular experience opened my eyes towards the issue that runs deep in the heart of every devout Christian but ultimately, as a human being, it changed my perspective on what it takes to have peace. To talk about peace and any cardinal virtues seem heavenly. To have conversation on how wonderful it is to experience the good things itself would take us into a bliss, let alone, having them as part of us.
However, there are toils, snares, thorns, bushes, spear, arrows and more adversities in order to achieve those – the unseen crusts that unveil themselves in the shape of hatred, anger, injustice, egotism, selfishness, pride, naivety, agony, self-indulgence, war, prejudice and more. They clothed themselves in a gold-dust called “laws of nature”. However, are we to succumb to them and ironically, we desire cardinal virtues to be shown to us?
Jesus had shown us ways to practice cardinal virtues. In Luke 6:27-31, Jesus said:-
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
To earn peace, you need to make truce.
To be loved, you need start loving others.
To feel blessed, you need to bless.
To experience grace and mercy, you need to show them.
These are meant to be done unconditionally.
It is a tough battle – yes, I call it “battle” because we will struggle to fulfil them.
However, Jesus, in the first part of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-16) mentioned this: –
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus showed the opposite to all the issues of the world and their perpetrators. Jesus called for us to a shine a light rather than to escalate the problems even more with retaliation. Jesus called for us to call out problems in a way that people are inspired to act upon love, grace, mercy and justice. Christians are called to raise up fruits of the spirit rather than to be swayed by unhealthy manifestation of emotions. Jesus called us to be counter-cultural when the world is driven towards retaliation.
I bumped into a Facebook post that called out for Ukrainian Christians to never seek to pray for a truce between Ukraine and Russia. Instead, this post condemns Russia to damnation. This is no different than the level of hostiles shown by other religious extremists who desire to exterminate those in opposition. Also, humans have no sovereign authority under heaven and earth (apart from the missional authority) to demand God to condemn a person.
To show anger, hatred, and to return “an eye for an eye” may somewhat be non-beneficial to the world that is broken and depraved. In fact, every person plays a part in the brokenness and the depravity of this world. What is the difference between us who condemn and call for a boycott against the perpetrators? We all have sinned and fall short of the goodness and glory of God that we do not deserve to be born and rather, we should die for every iniquity that we caused, even in our day-to-day basis against our neighbor.
The Palestinian tour guide taught me one thing: It is hard to let go of the feeling of vengeance against the Israeli occupiers but knowing that first, the Palestinian forces would have gone too far as well and second, to seek vengeance would make him no difference in character to them (as in, the Israeli occupiers), there is a space to make a difference and to be the change that he desires for himself and his children. He desired to impact pilgrims and tourists to the Holy Land with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we who have sinned and fall short of glory, undeserving of mercy and grace have been given a chance to receive grace and mercy because Jesus has given His life on our behalf at the cross. Hence, out of His grace and mercy, we’re called to share them to others unconditionally.
Forgive when it is the hardest to forgive,
Be merciful when it is the hardest to show mercy,
Be gracious when it is the hardest to show grace
Show love when it is the hardest to show love.
The world is filled enough with hatred, anger, injustice, lies and other mischiefs that we wish would end once and for all and to no surprise, it will be darker than ever. However, this is the time to call out the issues and seek for an alternative as Jesus had taught us from the Beatitudes. It is time for us, Christians, to pray for peace and to initiate peace between conflicting parties. Be the mediator of goodness and beacon of hope to this dark world!