A cauldron of emotion in Ferguson, MO has resulted in an escalating series of losses for the past two weeks. The aftermath of Michael Brown’s death from gunshots by Officer Darren Wilson is tearing the St. Louis area apart, and the heartache ripples across our nation as daily reports deliver bad news about the developing story. Does Christmas really offer any solution to strife like that?
When Jesus said that division rather than peace was the focus of His coming (Mt. 10:34; Lk. 12:51), He did not invite the kind of violence that has shaped the story in Ferguson. Otherwise, He would have let Peter continue to wield his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn. 18:10-11; cf. Jn. 18:36). On the contrary, Jesus continually announced peace and called people to peace. The Beatitudes famously declare “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9 NASB). At least twice Jesus endowed His feeble band of misfit disciples with peace (Jn. 14:27; 16:33). And the Apostle Paul teaches that Christ has made peace between Jew and Gentile (Ep. 2:14-15; cf. Co. 3:15). The Prince of Peace has come (Is. 9:6), and this is “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10 NASB).
At a safe distance of over 700 miles away from Ferguson, it’s all too easy for us to spot the problem. Despite the coming of the Prince of Peace, peace does not prevail in Ferguson because the Prince of Peace is not currently reigning there. His commands are being ignored. In particular Jesus connected peacemaking with one critical command by using a common term to link them together. The process of peacemaking and the skill of loving your enemy are both bound together by the term “sons of God” (Mt. 5:9, 44-45). Just as peacemaking shows the family resemblance to the Father and causes us to be known as “sons of God,” so loving our enemy shows the family resemblance to the Father and causes us to be known as “sons of God.”
If the command to love your enemy were obeyed in Ferguson on both sides of the issue – surely that would move the situation toward peace, not away from peace; and surely that move would look like a miraculous turnaround, not a torturous crawl toward an elusive dream.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously hit the nail on the head: The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.… In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Dr. King’s eloquent statement captures the same meaning in Jesus’ words when He rebuked Peter by saying, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26:52 NIV).
When the situation looms large and far away like Ferguson, we can see that principle quite clearly. But when the situation takes a smaller form within our own lives, we naturally miss the big picture. Paul warns “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Ga. 5:15 NIV). Our violence may take the more common form of verbal jousting, but the principle remains constant. Peace only comes as the Prince of Peace reigns through our obedience to “love your enemy.” The Apostle James applies this same principle in chapter four of his letter. He says quarrels and conflicts come from frustrated desires that lead to murder. The physical violence we think of as senseless and beneath us fits right into James’s understanding of the Lord’s teaching about murder in the heart (Mt. 5:21- 22). And he goes on to point to the solution by saying, “You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask” (Ja. 4:2 NASB). He points them in the same direction that the Lord did; because at the same time Jesus taught us to love our enemies, He also taught us to pray for those who persecute us (Mt. 5:44). It’s never our fleshly instinct to pray for those who hurt us. We only learn that by studying our Father and imitating Him. When we do, we bear the family resemblance and the Prince of Peace truly reigns. May this Christmas call us back to those tidings of great joy for all the people, and may we let Jesus reign in our conflicts just as we yearn for Him to do elsewhere in His world.