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 18th sunday in ordinary time

July 31, 2005

Passionate for Others

Romans 9:1-5

Little Boy

They codenamed the first one, “Little Boy.” It was 10 ft long and 28 inches wide and weighed 8,900 lbs. It contained 60 kg of enriched uranium and exploded with the force of 13 kilotons of TNT on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 am over Hiroshima, Japan. Over 70,000 people died from the initial blast and nearly 200,000 would later die from exposure to radiation. The decision to drop the Bomb was never in question. Other alternatives were never considered. Political and military leaders never discussed a moral justification for their decision to unleash a nuclear holocaust. They never considered its future ramifications. President Truman would later write, "I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used." Winston Church would add "[N]or did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise."1

While I do not intend to explore the military's rationaleand the moral arguments for history's most notorious foregone conclusion. I believe that we should consider our attitudes and perspectives toward our enemy during a time of war. Before a war can begin, political and military leaders must dehumanize the enemy. This was easy with the War in the Pacific. Our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor. We were willing to live in peace but the enemy initiated the conflict. This hostile act fed into our nation's predisposed racial prejudice against people with a different color skin and culture. Our hatred was reinforced by the bitterly fought battles waged on the beachhead of previous unknown islands. The decision to annihilate a city was easy when its citizens were seen as less than human.

This path of dehumanization continues today. To justify the invasion of Afghanistan, we were told that the 19 terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center, attacked the Pentagon and threatened the White House were trained and financed by other terrorists living in that country. They were not young Muslims. We heard their names but we only remembered them as nameless terrorists. To justify, the invasion of Iraq we were told that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We must attack before we are attacked. In a world were might makes right, these arguments seem logical. In a world that cherishes the temporal and only pays lip service to the eternal, this perspective appears sound. However, both Jesus and the apostle Paul would have different thoughts. In today's Scripture, Paul writes that he is willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of those who inflicted him with 40 lashes on five different occasions, beat him with rods three times and stoned him leaving him for dead. In spite of all this, Paul was willing to do whatever it took, to enable his fellow Jews came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle to the Gentiles

Traditionally, Paul has been viewed, by his critics, as a self-hating Jew who distorted and manipulated Jesus' message for his own personal gain. He supposedly deceived Gentiles who had not heard Jesus preach and started a new religion that was both antithetical to Judaism and the basic teaching of Jesus.2 These critics hold Paul personally responsible for two thousand years of anti-Semitism and Christian brutality toward Jews. However, I would argue that Paul always had a love for his fellow Jews because he believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the ancient Scripture.

This passion for his fellow countrymen is evident after his conversion. Blinded by a light while traveling north from Jerusalem Paul saw a vision of the Risen Christ who instructed him to go into the city until he was told what to do. Responding to the voice of our Lord, Paul was taken to the home of Judas who lived on Straight Street. We do not know what he experienced in those hours of darkness waiting for his blindness to end. Perhaps he reflected on the the writings of the prophets. Perhaps he reviewed the stories of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Perhaps he recalled the words he heard on the road. Finally, in response to another vision a man by the name of Ananias came to Paul, laid hands on the man who had made murderous threats against anyone who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and prayed for Paul. Instantly something like scales fell off his eyes and Paul could see. Paul then joined the disciples and immediately began to preach in the synagogue to his fellow countrymen. Everyone who heard his preaching were stunned. They asked one another, “Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name (Jesus)?

Paul's early missionary activity continued to focus on the Jewish population. Whenever he and Barnabas would go into a city, their first stop would be the local synagogue. They would always share the good news first with the Jews. Eventually Paul noticed that the Jews were no longer interested in hearing his message. They developed a hostility toward him as news spread about his conversion. However, Paul also noticed that the Gentiles were more interested in hearing his message than his own people so Paul shifted his attention. If the Jews were not receptive, Paul would preach to those who were responsive. Paul would later understand that God had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles but he would never abandon his longing for his fellow Jews to come to faith in Jesus. Paul never lost his passion for the people who would consider him an enemy.

Passion for People

Let me ask you, do you have the same passion for people that Paul had? Are you more interested in seeing Saddam Hussein come to know Christ, or tried for his crimes against humanity? Do you want to see Osama bin Laden captured and imprisoned, or come to faith in Christ? Some will object. They will argue that his is not the same? These men are not fellow Americans, they have committed heinous crimes and will continue to do so unless they are brought to justice. You are right on both accounts but neither point matters. They are our enemies, but Jesus said to love our enemies and to forgive them. What matters is how are you praying for them? Are you praying for their salvation or for justice?

Having considered the theoretical, let us for a moment consider the practical application of Paul's message. I doubt seriously if any of us will ever have an encounter with the former leader of Iraq or al Quida. However, we may have an encounter with an Arab-American, a Jew or a Palestinian. How will we respond to them? Do you share Paul's passion for their salvation? Would you be willing to surrender your own life, for them to know Christ? Two things must take place before we are able to adopt such an attitude. First, we must be absolutely convinced that Christ is the only way to God.

Only One Salvation

Most people tend to be universalists, by that I mean, they believe that there are many avenues to God. Each faith has its own uniqueness but they share many common traits. They offer women and men hope in times of despair. They instruct people in how to live a moral life and how to treat others. While each religion may emphasize different aspects about the spiritual world and offer a slightly different ethical standard, no one religion is better than another.

Paul was not a universalist. He was absolutely convinced first that God had revealed himself to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob for one purpose and one purpose only—to redeem all humanity. Secondly, Paul believed that the nation of Israel was a chosen nation. God blessed them by giving them the Law. God also sent the prophets to call Israel back to the covenant. However, in their preaching they also included a message of hope. God would one day fulfill his covenant and send the Messiah. Paul understood that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. However, unless the people of Israel would place their faith in Jesus, all the promises that God had made to them, all the blessings that God had given to them would be for naught. So because the people of Israel had rejected Christ, Paul believed they were accused and cut off from God and their spiritual state brought sorrow to Paul's heart. This knowledge did not produce anger or hatred toward his fellow countrymen but sorrow and anguish.

My friends, allow me to be even more practical, does the spiritual state of your neighbors and family who do not know Christ bring unceasing anguish to your heart? Do you have great sorrow, because they do not know the joy of their salvation, but they also will not know the joy of eternity?

Getting Close to Our Enemies

After we have become absolutely convinced that Christ is the only way to God the second aspect that we need to change about ourselves is our perspective toward others. In the modern world we create barriers between ourselves and others. We do this our of our fear as a form of protection. We are not sure we can trust everyone. By keeping away from others, they pose less of a threat, but in actuality they are more threatening.

During the Lebanon War in 1982, a platoon of Israeli soldiers had engaged a group of Palestinians in combat near a refugee camp. The fighting was intense as the Israelis were careful not to shot civilians. The platoon had fought their way into the refugee camp and the gunfire had taken a momentary pause when two refugees came in their direction carrying an object. The Palestinians were only 20 yards away. The soldiers screamed for the men to drop the crate. There was a moment of tension when the soldiers did not know what to do. Should they shoot assuming that the crate was a homemade bomb or wait until they could decipher their screams. Before anyone shot, one of the soldiers realized that the men were carrying a crate of Pepsi. Their screams were invitations for the soldiers to have a drink. Later one of the soldiers reflected, “If they had been 200 yards away, we would have shot them and been glad to hit them.”

Lives were spared because the distance between two enemies was removed. We can easily treat people as enemies when we keep them out of our lives. We can remain unconcerned about their spiritual health when we do not know them. We cannot justify our prejudice and our hatred, so long as the other person remains a nameless enemy or even an unknown neighbor. Are we willing to get close enough to people to see them as friends.

The Inevitability of War

We will always have wars this side of eternity but we do not have to justify our decision to wage war by dehumanizing our adversary. We need not turn them into vicious, soulless adversaries. They may worship a different god. They may worship God differently but Christ died for them just as he died for you and me. Before we meet them on the battlefield we should be lifting them to God in prayer. Who knows maybe our prayers for the North Koreans, Iranians and other citizens of the Axis of Evil might prevent us from ever having to fight them.


1 Quotes from David M. Kennedy, “Crossing the Moral Threshold,” Time, August 1, 2005 available [online] accessed http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1086166,00.html, July 29, 2005.

2 This is essentially the view of Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, 1986) cited by PAMELA EISENBAUM, “Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?” Cross Currents, Winter 2000 available [online] http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles /mi_m2096/is_4_50/ai_70396487 accessed on July 39, 005.

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