Make Love, Not War
Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 19 February 2017
I was arrested at an anti-Vietnam demonstration in London. Was this because I was storming the barricades and standing up for peace and justice? Was I laying my body on the line against the tyrants of fascism? Was I challenging the authority of a Government by facing up to its law keepers despite the consequences to my own safety and freedom? Not quite.
After the demo (note the cool lingo), I was quietly making my way home with my “Make love, Not war” sign. My tiny student flat was too small to store it, so I flung it over a hedge where it decapitated the head of a concrete garden gnome belonging to the mayor of the local council. I was charged with damaging public property and luckily got off with an inspector’s warning. The words of the sign are embedded into my memory, and the slogan became synonymous with that world-wide peace movement which had a dynamic effect on ending the Vietnam War.
The Beetles echoed those words in their song “All you need is love”, which mirrors those famous words 2000 years earlier “Love your enemies” when an unknown Nazareen peasant was saying the unbelievable to his friends and followers. This part of what we now call the Sermon on the Mount has gone down in history as the simplest and yet the most profound religious or philosophical statement ever uttered. The Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew is a compilation of utterances from Jesus to his followers. All these statements are in fact teaching or training. One great scholar describes them as an ordination address to the disciples. And his disciples are more than the accepted twelve. It’s to his follower’s men and women to equip them for their future ministry. And these few verses which we read in our Gospel lesson are still the lifeblood of our faith. The Jewish Scholar C G Montefiore tells us there “There is no passage in the whole of the New Testament which contains such a concentrated expression of the Christian ethic as does this”.
So let’s consider what Jesus was saying and what he was demanding of his followers.
What does Jesus mean by “Loving our enemies”?
We use the word ‘love’ very easily. And we use it in all sorts of ways. This week on St Valentine’s Day we were bombarded with the word, and hearts and flowers and greeting cards. We don’t really think about its usage.
What we really need to understand is that in the Greek language (and remember the New Testament was written in Greek) there are in fact four words for love.
- Firstly there is the noun “storge”, the characteristic word for family love. This word describes the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent. Plato uses this word when he says “A child loves and is loved by those who brought him or her into the”
- Second, there is the noun “eros”. This word describes the love of partners for each other. This is romantic love, and there is always passion suggested in this word. Sophocles defines this as “The terrible longing”.
Here I must pause for one moment to make a strong statement about a country that goes along with a TV concept “Married at First Sight” while forbidding gay couples to formally and legally declare their relationship in marriage. Marriage is about two people, having considered it deeply, committing themselves to each other. “Married at First Sight” is a TV show about people getting married to strangers who have never met and who know nothing about each other. Yet two people of the same sex who are in love (eros) and who want to formally and publicly declare that, they can’t. Our Uniting Church in Australia should be standing up for this human right loud and clear. St Michael’s can take the lead on this.
I believe that we can and should stand up to this Social Justice issue; by talking about this issue of marriage equality. Talking to our friends and family and colleagues, raise the issue with people in authority, writing letters to members of parliament for we are one church who can and will fight for this.
- Then there is the third use of the word love, “philia”. This is a warm Greek word. It describes a person’s closest friendships. It is the word used in the famous saying by the Greek dramatist Menander “Whom the gods loves dies young”.
- Then there is the fourth usage of the word love, “agape”. Agape is the word Jesus uses here. Its real meaning is “unconquerable benevolence” “invincible good will”. If we regard a person with ‘Agape’, it means that no matter what the person does to us, not matter how he or she treats us, no matter if they insult us, or injure us, we will never allow any bitterness against them to invade our hearts. We will regard them with that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but the highest good.
Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we loved our loved ones, our family, our partner. We cannot help loving them in the case of our partners we speak of “falling in love”; it comes to us unsought. It is something born of the emotions of the heart.
But in the case of our enemies, love is not something of the heart; it is something of the will. It is something we have to will ourselves into doing. It’s a determination of the mind.
Agape is the power to love those whom we do not like or who do not like us.
And it is this use of the word “Love” that I believe Jesus laid down as a basis for personal relationships and attitudes.
This passage is often used as a strong argument for pacifism. But when you think about it, it’s much easier to go about declaring that there should be no war between nations than to live a life in which we personally never allow any such thing as bitterness to invade our relationships.
I don’t know if you watched Q and A on the ABC. If you did, you would have seen Jacqui Lambie a Federal Government Senator screaming and shouting at Yasmin Abdel Maged a leader in the Muslim community. Yasmin returned it. Not a lot of agape there either. The pro-Muslim and anti-Muslim constituencies need to exhibit Jesus’s words of love echoed too by Mohammed “You will not complete your faith until you love one another” and show that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill.
This agape, this love is needed in our government, in international relations, in our prisons, in our streets and in our churches. But it starts with each one of us, and then truly the world can be changed.
Watch the full address here