Saturday, June 18, 2016

Seek First

“Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. He took his stand above the people and said to them: “God says, ‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands so that you cannot prosper? Because you have abandoned the LORD, he has abandoned you.’”  2 Chronicles 24:20

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Matthew 6:32B-33

Father, show us the path of peace. Guide us to your sources of love so that we can love all our neighbors.  Forever.

Reading through sections of the Historical books of the Hebrew Bible over recent weeks provides an important lens for us to look at our own past and our own present. The concerning question posed by Zechariah also could have been echoed in the era of the Crusades or it could resonate today as we face the jihad (holy war) declared by some terrorists against Israel and the West.

People are pretty thin-skinned and hard-hearted and they did not take kindly to criticism from Zechariah any more than people like criticism today.  Posing the tough question and speaking truth to power got Zechariah stoned to death.  He was imitating Christ like St. Stephen before Christ was imitating Christ.  However, because his accusers and executioners were not in a right relationship with the Lord and had rejected the commandments, they got their “just desserts” as an invading army of Arameans came crashing down and killing all their leaders.

Could this message not resonate with the eleventh century Christians who waged a holy war with Islam in order to defend Christians in the Eastern Churches (areas of modern day Turkey, Egypt and Syria)?  European invaders were driven out of the Middle East after nearly 200 years of wars in seven campaigns across the Middle East.

Who was right?  The crusaders would say they were in a righteous relationship with God under the mantle of various popes.  The defending Saracen (Muslim or Islam was not a term used in the day) opponents would claim the same moral high ground about their relationship with Allah.  Invading armies from each side kept crashing down on the other side.  It is hard to see the loving relationship of your enemy with his or her faith when you are trying to kill them.

Yet, these caused one historian to note: "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God." [i] He could have been writing about the battles in the Book of Kings, the Intifada, or the jihad called by radical terrorists from Al-Qaeda or ISIL.  But he was calling out the Christian Crusades. 

How can we NOT base out action upon the call in Matthew’s Good News?  Our heavenly God knows what we need more than any temporal or earthly ruler – or even pope.  Jesus calls upon us to seek first the Kingdom of God – not the kingdom of our own choosing and defending. 

Maybe it should not surprise us that the Desert Fathers or the founders of the great monastic orders separated themselves from the political and social groups of the day. It might actually be harder for us to try to balance living in the modern world and trying to follow Christ than it would be if we sought to live a life of holiness in a monastery or convent. Living apart might remove much temptation. Might.

Jesus did not live his life away from his sisters and brothers. He sought God in the desert and on the mountaintop.  Yet Jesus always returned to stay with the people he came down to save to find God and be God among the people. Fortunately, Pope Francis is not calling us into some modern Crusade. He is imitating Christ by calling for us to have a revolution of mercy and justice in our hearts for the refugees, the poor, and those in need.  As Pastor Mark Meredith writes in his blog entry Loving Muslims, “Christ commands us to love and pray for our enemies. He absorbed the violence done to him out of love. It is my love of Christ that compels me to love Muslims.”[ii]

[i] Runciman, Steven (1951). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (reprinted 1987 ed.). Cambridge University Press.


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