Speaking peace while waging war

Proper 8 (June 29, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Jer. 28:5-9; Ps. 89:104, 15-18; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 10:40-42

In the region this week, the fragile truce in Gaza began to fray and major explosions rocked Anbar Province and Mosul in Iraq.

We traveled to Jerusalem and Bethlehem for several days of meetings with MCC partners who are engaged in the work of peacebuilding, trauma healing, truth-telling, teaching and providing basic services that sustain human life. While most of these partners admit that the prospects of peace are currently dim, they courageously and persistently choose to labor toward a vision of the day when all will live in peace and security.

Perhaps the most memorable image of the week was eating lunch with a group of Palestinians leaders under several sprawling fig trees. It brought to mind the words of the prophet Micah, who promised a day when all will “sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Ironically, the Palestinian land on which we ate this lovely meal is targeted to be taken by Israeli authorities in the coming year and turned into yet another illegal settlement.

Palestinian leaders eat meal with MCC staff under a large fig tree in the West Bank

This week’s Common Lectionary texts lift out themes of God’s steadfast love, faithfulness and free gift of grace; and human responses that reflect either commitments to truthfulness, justice and life, or to falsehood, injustice and death.

In the Old Testament reading, the Jeremiah confronts Hananiah, a false prophet who promises the people that their exile in Babylon will be short-lived. Jeremiah counters that, normally, God speaks words of warning through the prophets. As for those who prophesy what the people want to hear, they will be vindicated only if their words come true (Jer. 28:9). Indeed, within a year, Hananiah dies. As for the exile, it lasts 70 years as truthfully foretold by Jeremiah.

The psalmist declares God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (Ps. 89:1-2). These qualities, along with righteousness and justice, are the foundation of God’s reign in the world (v.14). For this reason, humans are to walk in God’s light and exult in God’s name (vv. 15-16).

In the Epistle reading, Paul poses the provocative question of who owns us. Are we slaves to sin or slaves to God? If the former, sin will exercise dominion over us, luring us down a path that ends in death (Rom. 6:12, 21, 23). Our lives will become weapons of wickedness (v.13). On the other hand, if we offer our lives to God and to God and way of justice, sin will no longer have dominion over us (v.14); our lives will become instruments of righteousness and be set apart for God’s purposes (v.13, 19, 22); and we will receive God’s free gift of life without end (v.23).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of the rewards of hospitality. Those who welcome his disciples are in fact welcoming Jesus (Matt. 10:40). Those who welcome prophets and righteous people receive the same reward as God has in store for prophets and righteous people (v.41). Those who offer even a cup of cold water to a child will be rewarded (v.42). God takes notice when we offer hospitality to those who come to us as God’s representatives.

Reflecting on these texts this week, I wondered about public officials today who speak as if peace is just around the corner in Iraq and Palestine while, by their actions, they continue to promote injustice and undermine peace. I wondered about those whose lives are sold to the way of violence, control and domination rather than to extending God’s life-giving justice and hospitality.

And I wondered about my own response to God’s faithfulness, steadfast love, righteousness and offer of grace. Do my words and actions reflect commitments to truthfulness, justice, hospitality and life? Or to falsehood, injustice and death?

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