How can we pray this prayer of all prayers, here in Paris, the day after?
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 818.)
Yes, Jesus did command us: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). Really? Yesterday several terrorists killed at least 128 people in six separate but coordinated attacks here in Paris. According to the Islamic State group, [Daesh], this was planned in advance and ordered from their base in Syria, in retaliation for the French involvement there.
The French president, François Hollande, has promised to reply in kind: “We will be merciless.” Meanwhile, hundreds of families are mourning their dead and wounded, attacked simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher attacks in January were targeted specifically; these six attacks were against “targets of opportunity,” as the military says.
“Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” Doesn’t that just “enable” them?
Here is where our baptismal promise to “follow and obey Jesus as Lord” cuts into our lives. We should do good to those who hate us, because Jesus has told us to. So how can we?
First, I think we need to see that loving the enemy who can do such things to us is not just vapid idealism. The whole point of the Christian story is summed up thus: “While we were yet his enemies, Christ died for us” (Romans 5: 6-10). In other words, God shows love for us precisely by putting off the divine power that we crave. The day after this heinous attack, we may wish for God to come down and wipe out our enemies. Instead, Christ on the cross, completely powerless at the last, shows us that it is only love that can overcome hatred, evil and even death.
Jesus asks us to follow his way, as love is the only power in this world that can literally and figuratively save us. He certainly did not “enable” his enemies. In the short term, we need the police and the military, and we should be grateful that Parisians have such courageous and professional forces. They and the firefighters and emergency medical teams need our prayers and deserve our support. Not to mention the wounded and dead, and their families and friends.
But the question of their assassins concerns not only us here and now, but the whole human race. What word do we have for these people? Our first instincts are to demonize them. . . to label them as “Islamic fundamentalists” or some such, and cheer as the Rafale bombers carry out a massive campaign in retaliation. But this is too simple. It is not what Jesus would have us do. What he wants is harder.
When we baptize or confirm people, Episcopalians always repeat the promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people. . .”
We need therefore to chart a way to make peace. Peace, not appeasement or total war. In order to be able to do that, we first need to turn back to Jesus and ask for help.
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Bishop Pierre Whalon heads the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.
This comment was first posted by the Episcopal News Service.