In Matthew chapter six, the middle section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to pray, give alms, fast, and forgive. He offers these tools to help us on our journey to the God of love and peace, to help us love God and all humanity. But in the middle of these helpful teachings, he makes a shocking statement: "You cannot serve God and money." It's one or the other. "Seek first the reign of God and God's justice," he says, "and all these things will be provided to you as well." I consider this one of the most neglected but crucial commandments in the entire Gospel.
On the Road to Peace
On the Road to Peace is a column on nonviolence from Jesuit Fr. John Dear, a peace activist and the author of more than 20 books.
Not long ago, the legendary theologian Walter Wink and his wife June invited me to lunch with friends in Santa Fe. It was a blessing to enjoy their company, but I'm still nervous around my old friend Walter. I consider him one of Christian history's greatest scripture scholars because of his ground-breaking analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:38-42, in his book Engaging the Powers, (Fortress Press, 1992). It's a book that anyone interested in Gospel nonviolence should read. He explained as never before Jesus' teachings on nonviolent resistance: "You have heard, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say, Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil."
"If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what's so unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?" (Matthew 5:46-48)
These questions from the Sermon on the Mount get right to the heart of the spiritual life. Why don't we love everyone everywhere unconditionally? Why not love our enemies, as Jesus said? Why go along with the culture of war and its arrogant, ignorant warmakers? Why not practice "agape" like Jesus and his greatest followers, saints like Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Ita Ford and the Berrigans?
The bad news is so overwhelming these days, it's hard to find any good news. But the Gospel provides it in abundance in the life and teachings of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, his great manifesto of revolutionary nonviolence. Every June, we hear excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, in the daily readings. If I had any say, I would create a "Sermon on the Mount" Sunday and have the entire text read out loud at every Mass. In an effort to promote some good news, I thought I'd offer a kind of summer series on the Sermon on the Mount, as a way to stay focused on the nonviolent Jesus and his vision.
Last Friday marked one of my favorite days in the liturgical year, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For 47, I guess I'm old fashioned, but I love everything about that image. In recent years, however, I've begun to wonder: What are the social, economic and political implications of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? That question, I believe, can lead us to a whole new world of love, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence and justice, to our own disarmed, sacred hearts.
In the year 295, the 21-year-old son of a Roman veteran publicly refused to be drafted into the Roman army. As a result, the young man was arrested and brought to trial. His testimony was written down in a document called the Passio and later recited during Mass throughout the Church as an example of true Christian discipleship. His life and death became one of the great witnesses in the early Church. We need to reclaim his courage and testimony (which was meticulously recorded) as we try to stand up today against the U.S. war machine.
A few years ago my friend Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine launched the Network of Spiritual Progressives to unite religious activists from across the spectrum to confront the issues dividing the nation and the world. I joined the group and recently we placed an ad in The New York Times titled, An Ethical Way to End the War in Iraq: Generosity Beats Domination as a Strategy for Homeland Security." Already it has sparked debate and serious interest from many politicians about a new way forward.
As I follow the regular, dire reports on global warming, I recall my visit two years ago along the foothills of the Himalayas, near the border of China and Nepal, north of Dehredun in India. There I met Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading anti-globalization and environmental activist, a brilliant, engaging scientist and Gandhian activist.
She has taken up a formidable challenge -- to resist globalization and protect farmers, not to mention the earth itself. Her strategy -- to harvest every endangered seed and indigenous plant, restore the soil to its original richness, and save the seeds from corporate patent theft by creating “seed banks.” A modern-day Noah, gathering for the future the herbs of the world.
A few years ago when I moved into a handmade house, off the utility grid, powered by solar panels, no potable water in the taps, atop a mesa, in the high desert of New Mexico, I took a deliberate step toward reconnecting with the earth.
This week, my troublemaking friends and I might, after several postponements, be standing trial for our attempt in Santa Fe Sept. 26 to pay a visit to Sen. Pete Domenici and urge him to sign the "Declaration of Peace," a pledge to help end the U.S. war on Iraq. To aid our case we boldly subpoenaed the good senator, who is up to his ears in problems for his role in the firing of prosecutors. His lawyers are wrangling to keep him out of the courtroom, so our trial may well be postponed again.