Commentary
By Dr. Wendy Farley 4-03-2017

The news these days suggests we are experiencing a rebirth in our country — not of freedom, but of hatred and anxiety.

But God created the world, and loves humanity. No person, no religion, no race, no ecosystem, no nation, and no blade of grass was made without word, wisdom, and love. Humanity is one in the eye of the divine. The “way” of Christianity is to embody this love in all we do, see, think, and believe.

Agape is the nature of soul, the “precious one-ing” that solders us to the divine. Agape sees the world with the eyes of the beloved and recognizes that the least of these bear the face of Christ. Agape delights in the world and aches for the cruelties, ignorance, and painfulness of our delusions. Because of agape we are all connected to everything that happens — including the world’s suffering and its beauty. Agape teaches us about how to be family, how to live like family, how to live with strength and care in your hands, how to live with joy, how to put your hands gently on wounds and draw out the grief, and how to urge mercy so that good will grow.

What happens to us when this natural aptitude to feel the pain of the world turns to hate? How do we miss the face of Christ? How do hands made to “urge mercy into shock- stained earth” take up guns and spray paint, or legislation and executive orders against imaginary enemies?

It is the tragedy of Christianity that the first hate crime in our constellation of texts is Matthew’s, in his telling the story of the passion. Jesus was a great teacher, an inspiring healer, and a man whose radical compassion touched everyone — women without honor, under-employed fisher folk, Roman soldiers, gentiles, Samaritans, scholarly Pharisees. The hearts of Palestinian Jews flocked to him, and this terrified the Romans. They tried to abort his movement by making his death a spectacle of cruelty and unutterable degradation.

By the time this Gospel was written, the Jews had been crushed by Roman violence. The memory of the time they were suffering servants in Babylon was being re-enacted. The people of Israel had been given the “tongue of a teacher” that it would “know how to sustain the weary with a word.” And yet the chosen people found themselves in exile.

Some 500 years later, Jerusalem was necklaced by the crucified bodies of Jewish men, and emptied of women and children, carried off to slave markets in distant lands. The beautiful temple, carefully reconstructed after the Babylonian exile, was reduced to rubble. Jews were murdered, tortured, enslaved, and exiled.

But the miracle is that this outsized cruelty destroyed neither Jesus nor his people — nor the movement begun in his name. One of the world’s great religions were born out of this wreckage.

Matthew himself categorizes these events in a way typical of hate crimes. The victims of history become its monsters: Pilate becomes an instrument of the Jews’ virulent and irrational hatred. The rabbi who healed the Jewish people — disclosing the goodness and nearness of Father-Mother God, tender in love and mercy — now incites their lust for violence.

This is how hate crimes portray reality. Because hate crimes are embedded in our Scriptures, it has been easy for Christians to valorize hatred and violence. History remembers Pilate as an appallingly cruel and arrogant prefect, even by Roman standards. History remembers the long anguish of the Jews. But Matthew has turned this world upside down and invites us to sympathize with the empire and despise its victims.

This is not the good news. It is the context in which we receive good news.

We read the famous hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (1-4) describing the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to remain faithful in the face of conflict: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion, and sympathy, make my joy complete, being in full accord and one mind.”

Paul begs this community to remember that it is compassion, sympathy, love, and community that makes them lovers of Christ. They are being tempted to resort to the usual way — conflict, opposition, and mutual hostility. He implores them to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ.” Begging the Philippians to put on the mind of Christ, he sings of a power that hollows out ego-clinging and is filled with love, compassion, and sympathy. He does not call the Philippians to correct doctrine, but to “put on the mind of Christ,” and be Christ for a world that would draw them into hatred and opposition.

This great hymn is a reminder that the ways of hatred and violence are not the ways of God. We are invited to share the mind of Christ and act with compassion and sympathy.

This Lent, as we face the news of hate crimes committed by petty criminals and by powerful legislators, let us put on the mind of Christ. “Morning by morning” let our “ ears be wakened .” Let us renounce the virtues of empire, demand justice, and testify with the women at the tomb to agape’s resurrection.

Via On Scripture 

is a Professor and Director of Programs in Christian Spirituality at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is the author of several books, most recently Gathering Those Driven Away: a Theology of Incarnation and The Thirst of God. 

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