Trinity 13 – Responding to Adversity
Today’s readings address the theme of adversity in life and faith, and how to respond faithfully.
The Gospel from Matthew reads to my mind a little like St Matthew reflecting many years later on the events he has witnessed, and trying to make sense of the events of the Cross, and the suffering of Jesus. On the face of it those following Jesus must have thought that his works of healing, his miracles, and his teaching which drew crowds seeking his help must in some way equal success and popularity. However, as the Gospels came to be written many of the writers chose to arrange the life of Jesus as a journey from Bethlehem relentlessly toward Jerusalem. The came to understand that Jesus, though feted by crowds was building serious enemies among the religious hierarchy, and in a time when political power was dangerous and complicated, the powerful saw his message and his actions not as signs of truth and liberation, but threats to their own place in the world. They also came to understand more fully what Jesus had told them, and what the prophets had predicted, that this fulsome offering of love and forgiveness astonishingly would fail, it would be rejected, derided and he would die the death of a despised criminal. And of course left the humanity that is indeed where the story ends.
Paul knew more than most about rejection, persecution and suffering for his faith. For him his fate would be sealed in martyrdom somewhere near Rome, to whom he is writing in today’s epistle. His long ministry, made up of exhausting travel, perseverance with infant churches who so frequently fell away from his teaching the minute he left to go elsewhere all was extraordinary. His bravery in the face of the Greco-Roman world whose philosophers derided the Gospel of the servant King, and whose paranoid rulers, and those of the Jewish faith who likewise were unsettled by this new movement largely initially made up of former Jews sought to destroy anything they thought a threat, he was flogged even as an old man, a punishment that killed many younger than him, they imprisoned him, in awful conditions, and it was clear his life was continually hard, and his life often in danger.
And yet to this Paul responds with the astounding passage we have read this morning. The solution for Paul is to stand firm to the Gospel which is love, that must be our solid foundation. As that soaring passage form I Corinthians 13 reminds us, love is not who we naturally are, it is the mark at which we must aim, every day we must remind ourselves once again that love is patient and kind, never returns wrong for wrong, is humble, goes the extra mile, seeks the well-being of others, and much more. And love must be sincere, it cannot for a moment admit revenge, or retaliation, we cannot return evil for evil, we must cling always to what is good. And love must be visible and lived, so the hungry must be fed, the thirsty given a drink, and our doors must be open, our habit hospitality.
And what about the really bad people, surely we can call them out for what they are? Well we might name the sin, but the sinner is different. We do not repay evil, we always look past the wrong to the person God is trying to save every bit as much as He is trying to save us. So even for our enemies we care, it may shame them to receive good for bad, but it isn’t up to us to decide who deserves what, that is for God.
And positively my favourite sentiment in Paul is “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Peace I think in this sense is the deepest expression of love, the absence of peace is all that Gospel seeks to correct in the world, in society, relationships and of course necessarily in us. So as hard as it is sometimes, we have no choice but to love those who hate us, and wish them good, and trust God will do the rest - Amen