Are love, mercy, and ministry stronger than hate, anger, and violence? Let’s be clear: love, here, means divine love, the love of God. As we open ourselves to receive his love, we naturally love him in return. We also return his love by loving the neighbor as ourselves. Mercy means a wise and fair application of justice in the light of an understanding of the circumstances that help explain why wrongdoing has occurred. It does not mean letting murderers go unpunished. Ministry envisions not only the immediate needs of the recipient, but also the long-term needs of the whole. And sometimes wrongdoers must be restrained, if necessary, by the use of force. The refusal to use force may allow vicious minorities to dominate.
Love transforms. Mercy rehabilitates. Ministry makes love real, and it can also do what is necessary in strength and power for the long-term good of the individual and the whole.
Think of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. If we do not know all the circumstances that prompted this action, we do understand that the Jerusalem temple, the Father’s house, the center of worship, was at that time a place where the temple tax was paid in a coin that was purchased at an unfair exchange rate, and a place of the sale and slaughter of animals. Imagine the sounds, sights, and smells connected with this business. Jesus did not confront every evil of his generation, but he did come to make clear the way of worship in spirit and in truth, and the temple was in need of cleansing.
Hasty reading has sometimes given an unfortunate impression of what took place. Jesus has been portrayed as taking up a whip not only to drive the animals out of their pens, but also to hurt the men who ran the business. But there is no textual evidence to support that interpretation. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, but did not steal their money. He set loose the animals, but did not destroy anyone’s property. He disrupted the activities of the merchants, but did not injure them. It was a use of force free of anger (which bears within itself the seed of murder). Activities that were oppressing the people and obscuring worship were stopped; the whole business was banished from the temple in an act of ethical elegance. Jesus’ action was accomplished so quickly that there was no need for the Roman soldiers to intervene to suppress any uprising. In the rectified courtyards of the temple, peace prevailed.
Most of us, most of the time, have no occasion to consider using force. What we need, when waves of anger rage, is living faith, joy in God, and courage—the gift of fidelity. When fidelity is properly attached, we have the basis of strong character.
Hate may rage for a while, but hate is self-destructive. By contrast, divine love has cosmic strength, the power to grow and endure in a universe that is structured and patiently guided to evolve toward goodness.
In these tumultuous times, it is our privilege to do our part in spiritual unity with all who practice the way of love.
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