Sermon Summary (2/16/20) “Was Jesus a Pacifist?” (Matthew 5:21-24; James 2:8)
For most of my professional life, I was a soldier. I never used my personal weapon in anger although when I flew, I had five artillery batteries, 30 howitzers, at my command and I frequently directed their fire. My actions in combat were responsible for taking the lives of others, maybe even innocents since howitzer shells do not discriminate.
As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into my faith, I ask myself was I wrong to have such a career? We believed we were honorable men. Was I right? Was Jesus a pacifist? Is war ever just? People of faith have been asking similar questions over the centuries and have come down on both sides.
There are always unintended consequences in war. We only need to look at our recent past and current situation around the world where we see literally millions of people killed, wounded, maimed or displaced.
Yet, I would not consider myself a pacifist. If there ever was a just war, WWII was it. The greatest generation are my heroes. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It would have been impossible to ignore the genocide of 10s of millions of people in Europe and China. The greatest generation accomplished more good than we know.
Yet when I read a novel or watch a movie and hear someone say, “That person deserved to die,” it sets my teeth on edge (a biblical phrase, see Jeremiah). I’ve often said, “You will never look into the eyes of someone that God does not love.” I hope I’m never comfortable with the death of another.
Where do you stand on the intentionally taking of a life? Certainly the Old Testament makes room for retaliation including the institution of capital punishment for certain offenses.
But Jesus, God incarnate, is telling us God’s will behind the law: “You have heard it said, “Thou shalt not murder, but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister….” Anger, insult, contempt diminish us as well as the taking of a life. The other person is important to God. To paraphrase John Donne, God is in the business of mankind and he wants us to be in the business of mankind. We are diminished by another’s death. We are diminished when we treat another with contempt.
The royal law is “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is quoted by Jesus even more often than the commandment to love God with all our hearts. And he sums up the Sermon on the Mount with the Golden Rule, “Therefore, do to others as you would have them to do you, for this is the law and the prophets.”
In choosing, we need to use all of Scripture, the Golden Rule as well as “An eye for an eye.” We need to look at the traditions of the church. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit. We need to reason, using the mind that God gave us. Life is about choices. Almost all of our decisions effect others. That is life. Jesus tells us that the overriding principle we should apply is love. What is the loving thing to do? Love our neighbor as ourselves.