“Now when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9:54-55 NIV) No wonder Jesus called them “sons of thunder”!
We live in maddening times, and I suspect that many of us have a higher frustration level than we have ever experienced before. We’re discovering that our inner anger is much closer to the surface than we’d like it to be. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans, and perhaps a rather large majority, are disgusted and dismayed with the way things are going. The pandemic is not helping anything, to be sure, but there are other factors at work that are making people angry in general and enraged at some things in particular. And we tend to focus our angry on people.
Who among us has not found himself or herself wishing those with whom we disagree, let’s say “unwell”, rather than wishing them well? I have to confess that on more than one occasion lately I have caught myself day dreaming about someone (or a group of “some-ones”) with whom I vehemently disagree getting their “just desserts” (and I’m not talking about chocolate cake and ice cream, here). Though we’ve never met, and honestly, they’ve probably never actually done anything to me personally, (at least, not yet!) I’m seriously opposed to and feel threatened by their positions, words or actions. And in my heart I’ve already reserved a rather warm corner of Hell in their name(s), and would be pleased to see their check-in time be the earliest possible – perhaps even this evening, Lord?
Jesus has a word for that way of thinking. It’s called “murder”. Well, he may not have spelled it out entirely that clearly. But look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be answerable to the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. … 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may prove yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with Happy Sayings, each of which carries a promise. Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit, … those who mourn, … the gentle, … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, … the merciful, … the pure in heart, … the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” Immediately following this last one He says, 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
We are called to be peacemakers, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Notice that Jesus does not promise us that if we act like peacemakers we will not have enemies and we will not be persecuted. On the contrary, it seems from the way he positions his statements in context with each other that he fully expects that we will have enemies and persecution in spite of, or perhaps even because of, being peacemakers. Peter writes, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name.”
In the end, even John, one-half of the pair of sons of thunder, got it. ” If someone says, “I love God,” and yet he hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother and sister whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.” 1 John 4:20-21 NASB
We are not called to sit down in the face of evil, or to ignore it, or to placate it. On the contrary, we are exhorted to “stand, in the evil day”. We must stand for truth, for what is right, and for the Gospel. But we must speak the truth in love, guarding our own hearts against hate, praying for those who oppose us, wishing them well, even while we hate “even the garment” stained with sin. Let us not suffer as murderers (not even in our hearts) or troublemakers! God grant us the grace of patience and a sound mind!