Last night I spoke at Prendergast School’s founder’s day service - immediately after the orchestra played the William Tell Overture.
I felt I should have galloped in on a horse!
The theme was from Luke 6 - The part where Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good to people who hate you, bless people who curse you, pray for people who treat you badly and so on….
I can’t think of a time in my life where this teaching seems more appropriate!
It’s never easy to do good to people who hate you. Why would you? They hate you! It’s never easy to bless people who curse you. Why would you say something nice to somebody who has just said something truly evil to you? They deserve a serious put down, not a kind word.
Perhaps being told to pray for people who treat us badly is not so bad? I’ve done that. I once prayed for somebody who spat in my face. I went straight to God and prayed about his future. “Dear Lord” I said, “That boys future. Please take it away? Please make him choke of his own saliva?”
Of course, the problem with prayer is that it isn’t one way. It’s not meant to be. Prayer is as much about God speaking to us as it is about us speaking to him. He may not communicate with words in the same way that we do but he does quicken our senses, give us hunches and gut feelings and speak through our own thoughts. And on that day God said to me, in my own thoughts: “Paul, before you go on, you need to know that I’m as interested in his future as I am in yours. I have a plan for him. I want good things for him.”
The kind of prayer that Jesus asks of us to pray is one that brings good things to people, not bad, life not death. Even to those who do us harm.
That’s not easy at all!
On Sunday 5th June, David Nott, a prominent British vascular surgeon, told radio 4’s Desert Island Discs how he saved an ISIS fighters life during an operation when he was volunteering in Syria. He saved the life of a man who had destroyed so many lives. Why? Why would he do that?
He simply believed that that mans life was valuable. And he decided that, as a Christian, he wanted to do him good.
There is plenty of evil in the world at the moment. We all have personal experience of being mistreated, misunderstood and let down. We have all been victims of theft and lies. And most of us have been verbally, physically and mentally abused. Yet Jesus says: love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. And he finishes that passage by saying that God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
That is a huge shock!
God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked!?
I think it’s because a future with people being kind is a lot better than a future of people taking revenge. Indeed it is a future. It may not feel good now, in fact it feels horrible at first, but in the long run it is better for everybody. A future of people being kind means that eventually we’ll be able to trust each other.
Imagine being able to trust everybody in your street, at work, at school?
All it needs if for people to break the cycle of revenge with kindness.
People like us.
It wasn’t easy for me to be kind to the boy who spat in my face – he didn’t deserve it and I didn’t want to. It wasn’t easy for David Nott to value and save the ISIS fighter’s life – he certainly didn’t deserve it. But those are the acts of kindness that God is asking of us.
When I read the news I see maybe more conflict than I have seen before: Horrible racism following our vote to leave the EU, religious and political extremism causing terrorism and the media encouraging increasing polarising opinion.
What kind of a future does that offer?
It seems to me that our world needs this teaching from Jesus now more than ever. So let’s be kind to each other - including the ungrateful and the wicked.
Let’s: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
God help us.
That’s what I told the staff and students at Prendergast!