Sunday, 19 February 2017

Live by the law or by the principle

While writing this, it is interesting to hear the news on the radio.  It is filled with news of increased contributions to war, violence and detention whether in Australia or in the US.  Indeed, listening to the radio recently retired Justice Michael Kirby was explaining the difference between detention and imprisonment, the former the purview of the executive while the latter is the legislative.  Australia is skating towards the interference of the executive in the dealings of the legislative side with its detention policies negating the underlying principles.  All of these discussions arise out of how we start our viewing of challenges in the world and in relationships.  Our initial viewpoint is always from a legislative or legal view.  If not careful as we do this we become legalistic and narrow in how we approach life.  We see only one road forward that leads to confrontation or legalistic action.  Looking at Leviticus (19.1-2,9-18) and Matthew's gospel (5.38) this is the initial perception of our scriptures.  Often it appears to be the only perception of our scriptures, especially when we come to topics that raise fear and uncertainty (see recent debate in the English Synod).

Our Christianity and the God we follow as people of faith would seem to imply the opposite of this legality.  We all promote a God of 'LOVE' rather than of division and law, so how is it that we find ourselves in this position?  Is this our default position because we are unable to handle the complexities of human relationship without the law or is it simply because we are to lazy to work at being a Christian? Perhaps, in a manner of speaking, this vexed question lies behind Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and the instruction manual of the Sermon on the Mount which we so often mis-interpret so that our laziness can continue.  Paul enjoins us to build ourselves as being the temple of God's presence on earth (1 Cor. 3.12-17), on the foundation of Christ.  The foundation of Christ is a foundation of love in action as seen through the eyes of those who have witnessed to God's presence in their lives.  If we build up our lives as showing a strong ethic of love and the building of relationships that are lasting, then it is highly likely that our communities are going to grow into ones that are mutually supportive and integrated.  No matter how harsh the political / societal backlash is the building of relationship and mutual respect / love is likely to survive.  It is where this mutuality is non-existent and/or built on false motives / emotions that it is liable to collapse into divisive anarchy that is solely governed by legalistic action (1 Cor. 3.12-14).

Do we want to blind everyone by taking an eye for an eye?

The legal battle for retributive justice is seen in the classic legal argument that Christ states at the beginning of the reading from the Sermon on the Mount; 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' (Matt. 5.38).  This is how proponents in our courts and our governments act through out the world.  If someone or something has done a wrong against me / the country / the people then there is a demand for the proverbial pound of flesh.  But as Portia states in Shakespeare the 'quality of mercy is not strained...It is an attribute to God himself.' (Act 4 Scene 1) and then, just like everyone else, goes on to take every small bit of flesh out of Shylock's hide the law allows.  She does not even act with sufficient mercy to allow him a drop of blood, Jewish blood that is (Act 4 Scene 1 'He presently become a Christian'). No mercy here, just like our courts of law and nations.  Each time this occurs we stand on the side lines and cheer, hopefully, knowing in our hearts that Christ would turn away in shame as he has given us the means of showing unconstrained mercy. Christ in Matthew's gospel leads us to restorative justice and an ability to become a true pacem facere (pacifist / peacemaker) by looking at the underlying principles of relationship making.  A re-turning to a new relationship by giving oneself to our neighbour, so utterly that there is nothing else to give.  Putting aside our hurts to find and absolve the hurts in the other and so turn our wrath into peace.  A peace that begins to pervade our communities with justice and listening for Christ.

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