If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)
I don’t know about you, but I have found it awfully hard to watch the outflow of all that has gone on in Ferguson, Missouri over the past few months. For those of us who lived through the 1960’s or the riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial it strikes too close to home. Not many are interested in a repeat of those days. Yet with the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and now the results of the investigation of the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, it seems like things are spinning out of control.
I do not know enough about the facts to cast judgment on whether Officer Darren Wilson’s safety was in danger enough to justify shooting Michael Brown, nor if officers Wilson or Pantaleo should be indicted. Speculation does little to get at the truth. But what we can all know with reasonable certainty is that the Michael Brown’s mom and dad and the wife of Eric Garner must be broken hearted knowing they will never see their son or husband again. And I would assume that both the policemen involved would wish that none of this ever happened.
It’s not just the tragedy of the deaths of two men, but the events that have transpired in the aftermath not just in Ferguson or New York, but across the country. It is one thing to express outrage at what we may believe to be gross injustice. It is another thing to vent that outrage by destroying the property of innocent people and calling it “collateral damage”. All that does is more deeply entrench people’s mistrust. And it is that factor of trust that seems to me to be the greatest casualty of this whole mess. How can trust be rebuilt, if there ever has been any trust, between the law enforcement community and especially the black community? That mistrust, I believe, cuts in both directions.
When we celebrate Advent, we think about one of the four titles prophetically applied by Isaiah to the promised Messiah- “Prince of Peace”. When Isaiah uttered these words the people of God were at war—war with their neighbors and with themselves. The nation of Israel had split apart. The northern kingdom, Israel, had formed an alliance with the Syrians against their southern brethren, Judah. And Judah was considering an alliance with the Assyrians against the Israel-Syrian alliance. Trust was a virtually non-existent commodity. Against this backdrop, Isaiah doesn’t just predict improved relations between warring administrations. He predicts the advent of a heavenly King, God himself, who would initiate a whole new reign of everlasting peace.
The history of the human race has been characterized by strife and animosity since the days of Cain and Abel. There has never been a time when there hasn’t been conflict on the personal level or on the international level. That’s because of the breakdown of relationship between man and God. Jesus’ summarization of the Law, love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself, has been replaced with vertical and horizontal alienation. It is into this mix that God promised to send his own Son to be the “Prince of Peace”.
But, you say, the Israelites were God’s covenant people. Why weren’t they any different? It is because the promise was still pending; God’s Son still needed to bear the cost of reconciliation.
So what about now? Jesus, unfolding the Law for us as he does from a hillside in Galilee, says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”. He wasn’t advocating some smarmy sentiment. He didn’t have in mind some superficial “Just give peace a chance”. He was talking about the hard demands of what it means to follow him as his disciple. Jesus knew full well what reconciliation would cost him. It cost him his life. Now He wants us to consider what it might cost us. That, I believe, is the key. So where do we begin?
Not all our law enforcement officials are disciples of Jesus, nor are all those who feel betrayed by the law. But you and I who profess the name of Jesus are. And for those of us who are, whether law enforcers or otherwise, does not reconciliation on the horizontal level begin with honesty and intentionality? Honesty in openly confessing that we ourselves continually stand in need of grace, and the intentionality of deciding that our own self-interests may need to be take second place for the sake of real peace.
Pastor Tom Bridgman