Wisdom for Peace and Unity
Continuing with our theme of joining Jesus in His prayer for unity and promoting unity through our words and actions, today we come to the gift of wisdom. St. Benedict provided us with a good starting point last week. We began by listening. We listen even—and maybe especially—to those with whom we disagree and can’t understand (or simply can’t stand!). We listen with the “ears of the heart” for the Spirit’s presence, which is often not like “a great and powerful wind” or an “earthquake” or “a fire,” but like a “gentle whisper” (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).
Listening is a good starting place for promoting unity and peace because it often generates respect and good will. It humanizes the interaction and places value on the other person’s (or group’s) perspective, even if, in the end, it is a perspective we do not share. But let’s be honest: this is a bit of a romanticized outcome. It is the ideal, but in many cases an unreachable ideal. What are we to do about the difficult cases where listening just makes us angrier and convinces us even more that the other person’s perspective is ignorant, violent, bigoted, dangerous, or in some other way incompatible with our beliefs and values? What am I to do when listening causes me to lose respect for the other person? Even worse, what am I to do when listening causes me to see this other person as an enemy and a threat to all that I hold dear? Maybe I even feel that I hate them.
Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the original writers and thinkers about liberation theology, once quipped that Christians must have at least two enemies—because Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, plural! This is, of course, the very heart of the Gospel message and what makes it something radically new. Jesus says to us, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). This is a hard commandment. He rejects two approaches that are common. First, he rejects hatred. Christians are not allowed to hate our enemies. Wishing evil upon them or rejoicing in their demise is not consistent with the Gospel. Second, he rejects the advice so common in our day, “just ignore them.” No! He demands that we keep our enemies in our consciousness. We are required to actively do good for them and to pray for them. If we have gotten comfortable with our prayers for family and friends, prayers for ourselves and our needs, and prayers for those who are easy to love (like the sick child who recently died, Charlie Gard; or the victims of natural disasters, e.g.), but have not yet begun to actively pray for our enemies, then Jesus is speaking to us now.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Jesus asked. “Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same… But rather, love your enemies and do good to them… then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6: 32-35).
As we apply this to our country and our Church, with the increasing sense of disunity we feel lately, we may come to the realization that listening is a start, but it must be accompanied by good actions and prayers, especially towards those whom we find disagreeable or even vile. For example, if you are a supporter of Black Lives Matter (BLM), have you included police, judges, and juries in your prayers? Likewise, if you have felt threatened by BLM and have rallied behind a different slogan such as “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter,” have you nonetheless prayed for BLM and its members? Have you prayed for understanding and unity and peace?
When Solomon became king, God praised him because his prayer was not “for a long life… nor for riches, nor for [taking] the life of [his] enemies, but for understanding…” Elsewhere in the Bible we are told that Solomon’s prayer went like this: “Give me wisdom, the attendant at your throne… For I am your servant… a man who is weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgement and laws; for even one who is perfect among human beings will be regarded as nothing without the wisdom that comes from you” (Wisdom 9:4-6).
In a democracy, where we are all responsible for the government and the common good, we might consider Solomon an example to follow. Instead of denouncing our enemies and spouting vitriol, instead of ignoring those with whom we disagree as if they didn’t exist and don’t matter, we might pray for the gift of wisdom so that we, together, can govern with good judgment and understanding. This prayer, so pleasing to God in Solomon’s case, might be the very prayer we need today to live as Christians, promoting greater unity and peace.