Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Primacy of Peace or of Justice?

This column appeared in an-Nahar this past week. The Arabic original can be found here. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

The Primacy of Peace or of Justice?

Christ called for peace. He believed in the human capacity to realize peace ‘here and now’ in the present world for every generation that followed on the earth after His days until our own time. However, all generations have failed in establishing peace, contrary to the hopes of the inhabited world. The world continues to witness struggles and conflicts and wars and the military occupations, massacres, atrocities, forced expulsions, and ethnic cleanings that result from them.

In reality, the role that religions play is the opposite of what their founders intended for them. Christian institutions have disobeyed the divine commandment about this over and over again when they bless fighters and exhort them to battle and raiding, taking captives, plunder and robbery. Even worse than this is when wars are civil wars, where sons of a single country and neighbors from the same street fight each other.

Christ did not call for justice to the same degree that He called for peace. If He had only called for justice, would he have said in His famous Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who does evil to you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to him. And if someone wants to take your tunic, give your cloak to him as well. And if someone forces you do go one mile with him, go a second one as well” (Matthew 5:38-41). And did He say, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)?

Naturally, in quoting these words here we intend to point out the relationship between brotherhood within one house or between individuals of the same nation. When someone asked Christ to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him, He responded, “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). Christ refused to be an earthly judge who is concerned with the affairs of the world and its dirt. Christ realized that human justice is a mirage, a fantasy, grasping at the wind. What He truly wanted is peace among brothers, even at the expense of justice and equity between them.

However, Christ asks brothers to be concerned about each other’s affairs. Care for the poor, the impoverished, the crippled, the orphans, and those suffering is at the heart of His message. This is not based on applying justice, but rather on love, peace, and giving freely. And where is the concern of the Church’s institutions for all that? At a time when our countries are being drained by continuous emigration because of wars and military occupations, we see some of them ruling out the options of peace and stability, no doubt on account of a just cause. But is this cause worth civil strife that would turn the Christian presence into dead ashes? Christ did not remain quiet when he was struck by one of the guards of the high priest Ananias. He said to him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” (John 18:23). Christ defended himself and asked for the reason he was subject to the blow. But he suffered the pains alone and did not put others in danger because of His beliefs. He redeemed all mankind since He accepted to die for their sake, not because they died for His sake or for the sake of His cause.

Likewise St. John the Baptist realized his purpose when he spoke the truth before the face of Herod who had transgressed the Law. John realized that he would die if he continued to chastise Herod, but even so he did not give up and resolutely continued to remind Herod of the requirements of the Law and the teachings of the prophets until he cut off John’s head and offered it on a plate as a gift to the wealthy and decadent.

John’s convictions asked an exorbitant price of him . His life was the price. The price was not someone else’s life. He would not have been pleased for someone else to pay the price. He redeemed the word of truth with his head and his blood and not with the head of another. He did not gamble with other people’s heads and spirits, nor with the spirits of their wives and children, their youth and their elderly, nor with their homes, their livelihoods, and their possessions. He faced the anger of the judge with his bare head, covered only with the cloth of purity and chastity. He faced the anger that was coming for him armed only with his faith that could not be shaken by fear or adversity.

One who desires to strive until the end for a cause he believes in should be like Christ or John the Baptist and be pleased to suffer martyrdom for the sake of his lofty cause. He should not put at risk people who have no say in the events that future generations will discuss, just as we today discuss the horrors and tragedies of the history that has precedes us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very persuasive essay. However, one is compelled to ask: If human justice is of no value to Christ, why would human peace be of any value. Peace may indeed supposed to have primacy over justice, but justice matters to God (2 Chron. 9:8). Both peace and justice are only realized in the Kingdom of God.