Last weekend, Daniel Berrigan and I spoke to a church gathering on Block Island, Rhode Island about these difficult days of war. A ninety-nine year old woman named Ira stood up and told about her grandson who has been preparing to enter the seminary to become a minister, but then decided to join the Marines. She asked him, “If someone orders you to kill, are you going to obey that order?” Yes, he said. “But aren’t you planning to become a minister someday?” Yes, he answered again. “Well, Jesus would never kill anyone and he orders you not to kill anyone no matter what.”
The grandson was speechless. But he has gone into the Marines and is now in Iraq. She continues to write him, urging him not to kill anyone and advising him to quit immediately. “I have seen wars throughout my entire life,” she said, “but I can tell you that war never solves anything. War destroys everything and makes everything worse. We have to be against war for the rest of our lives.”
In our Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
The Gospel is very clear. We have two choices. We can be like the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, disregard this great commandment, and kill in the name of God to maintain our power and prestige; we can be like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their generals and refuse to reconcile or show love; we can be angry and support the killing of thousands and millions of people in Iraq and elsewhere in order to protect U.S. interests and oil companies. Or, like the saints and martyrs, we can follow Jesus, refuse to kill, be mindful of the roots of violence within us, refuse to give in to our anger, forgive those who hurt us, reconcile with those who have something against us, love our enemies and practice divine compassion.
What we are trying to do is simple and yet difficult; it does not attract media interest or worldly esteem. We are trying to follow the nonviolent Jesus. We not only refuse to kill or support war, we try to watch the anger and violence within us, to maintain the peace of Christ in our hearts through prayer and forgiveness, to reconcile with everyone, to love our enemies and even to practice perfect compassion toward all beings, just like Jesus. This is the wisest choice we can make, the best thing we can do with our lives, the most helpful way to live in these dark times.
The goal of this Gospel life lies in the opening verse: “to let our righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.” We too have to surpass our modern day culture of Pharisees, to surpass the warmarkers of the day–Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their generals, as well as the warmaking church and its military churchmen–and so “to enter the kingdom of heaven,” here and now, at this Eucharist and every moment for the rest of our lives. All we have to do is live in peace, resist Bush’s wars, show compassion toward one and all, stand in peace with all people, and follow the nonviolent Jesus.