The readings are frm the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thinking real:
FIGHTING CONTINUES IN UKRAINE
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
There are two elements here.
One is the profound Jewish doctrine of the “oneness” of God expressed in the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.” This not only means that there are no other Gods but also that God is self-consistent, always the same creator God who cares for the whole universe. Paul had extended the meaning of this doctrine by announcing that in Jesus Messiah God had declared himself the God of Gentiles as well as Jews. God’s oneness would create a unity amongst all human beings. Indeed Paul has a sense that God will not completely be one until the day when all creation is unified and God is “all in all.”
The Jewishness of Paul’s faith in Messiah Jesus is not often enough appreciated. In his teaching of this doctrine we can also see another Jewish element. Any profound doctrine in Jewish faith is at least 50% commandment; it includes human behaviour. In this case the unity of God requires believers to be selfless, gentle, patient, peaceful and loving. These are behaviours which proclaim that my God is your God, loves you as much as me, and wants us to live as brothers and sisters together. Correspondingly those who are selfish, brutal, impatient, aggressive and indifferent are denying the unity of God as well as breaking a commandment.
Christianity can learn from Judaism that right action is just as important as right doctrine. Too often in Christian history, selfish brutal people have punished gentle, loving people for having the wrong doctrine.The same mistake has bedevilled Christian relationships with other religions. Malala’s response to being shot in the head by intolerant Moslems may have done more to proclaim the unity of God than any amount of Moslem or Christian preaching.
Jesus said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud looming up in the west you say at once that rain is coming, and so it does. And when the wind is from the south you say it will be hot, and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the face of the earth and the sky. How is it you do not know how to interpret these times?
‘Why not judge for yourselves what is right? For example: when you go to court with your opponent, try to settle with him on the way, or he may drag you before the judge and the judge hand you over to the bailiff and the bailiff have you thrown into prison. I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the very last penny.’
Jesus was criticising the refusal of people to see what was in front of their faces in the Jewish nation of his time. Given the Roman conquest of their country, people were increasingly faced with the choice of robustly and peacefully asserting God’s rule over their lives, as Jesus proposed, or simply accepting the conquest, as many did, or opposing it violently as the Jewsih Zealots did. Ultimately the people opted for violence, which led to the destruction of their temple and nation in 70CE. Jesus was saying that refusing to choose was a choice in itself. For Jesus people were always capable of working out the rights and wrongs of any situation. He mocked their reliance on legal action to settle disputes; suggesting that the legal process often left people bankrupt. He wanted people to use their God-given capacity to settle disputes by fair argument.
We may imagine that all of this is relevant only to first century Palestine and not to us. But think. Are we not part of a world population tearing itself to bits by violence while tearing our planet to bits by greed?
We could choose the moderation and peacefulness needed to halt violence and preserve our planet, but often we pretend there is no choice.
And are we not members of a litigious society that wastes time, money and skills on barren disputes? We could choose to settle these by sensible negociation or communal arbitration, but we often abandon our resposnsibility to professionals.
Jesus’ teaching often recalled people to wise behaviour there and then. I have heard the phrase, “He was so heavenly minded he was no earthly use.” On the contrary, Jesus’ grasp of the “rule of heaven” gave him great shrewdness about worldly matters.