This autumn seems to be beset by despondency, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It is not just the posturing and point-scoring that we get during the political conference season. In part it may be the feeling that national agendas are being driven by political and cultural extremes, which gain currency by being deaf to all questions or qualifications. Nuanced debate and inquiry is seen as a threat, and the idea of arriving at a common mind and understanding is quite alien to this form of campaigning. We might have indulged in it as teenagers, but as St Paul put it, ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’ (1 Corinthians 13: 11).
Paul grew up in his thinking and in his faith. What is seen partially will be received in its fulness, when we also have the capacity to receive and respond to it. Later on in the same epistle, he says: ‘Brethren, do not be children in understanding, however in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature’ (1 Corinthians 14: 20).
This is partly about seeing ourselves, first of all within the context of Jesus Christ, and then in our fellowship in the Body of Christ, as well as our families, friends and colleagues. It applies also when seeing ourselves in the context of those who do not agree with us or accept us. It includes those whose company, actions and opinions may well be uncongenial to us but they are all part of our social landscape.
Perhaps that means keeping that retort or put-down to ourselves. It may mean stopping and listening – not only to what is said, but also to the emotions and circumstances of the speakers. They can still have a point to make, even, maybe especially, when we do not feel like hearing it or thinking about it.
This is a kind of love in action, which is undramatic and probably unfashionable. It does not seek to promote itself, because it does not need to. It is already secure. It does not have to justify itself or point to great deeds or achievements. It is already abiding in the love and the person of Jesus Christ.
Now there is a new process involved. It is free to give that gentler answer for it is already empowered from on high. It is free to engage with those hostile attitudes because these no longer determine the fate of the world. That has already been done by Jesus Christ on the cross. What is portrayed as weakness only displays the ignorance and selfishness of the portrayer.
As we look at Jesus’ encounters with His opponents, we see that His reasoning was rigorously logical, but this was a logic founded on spiritual truths. He was looking first of all to His Father in heaven, and this is what set His agenda and perspectives. It provided the basis for His encounters with society and its ills and challenges. He was not interested in politics or power-broking, even when engaging with political heavyweights. He was concerned about proclaiming the truth and the justice of God, given through the law but applied in the spiritual realm in order to bring people’s lives and lifestyles closer to the love and purposes of God.
His arguments seem to revolve again and again around the abuse of the law of Moses so as to embarrass or off-balance others and to lord it over them. Yet while the law would point to Jesus’ ministry and atonement it could never replicate them. It would never however interrupt or overrule His own love for God, and indeed, love was itself the fulfilment of the law.
[Note: this Commentary was written before the October 7 events in Israel.]