I have a tendency toward melancholy moods, which I don’t mind because they also tend to be times of deep and creative (for me) thinking. Fall is a season for such moods, and this year they are urged deeper by sadness over reports of increasing tolerance, even support, for Neo-Nazi hate groups; Tea Party nuts; fear, hate, racial and religiously motivated shootings; and political ideologues basking in the light of polarizing tactics. It seems that we, individually and collectively, are quick to make choices that appear to be in our immediate self-interest without much thought for consequences affecting others or for the future well being of the community. Because most of us are steeped in the language of liberty and justice for all, as well as the predominant Christianish traditions of the last couple centuries, we are also very accomplished at wrapping those decisions in pious words.
The really sad part is that it has always been so and we do not seem to have made much progress over the millennia. I thought of that this morning as I read Ezra’s prayer and address to the people in chapter 9 that included the phrase “…and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong.” He was talking about all, every one, of the people living in the region who were not among the faithful company of returning Israelites. “Never seek their peace or prosperity.” His intention was to strengthen a purified Jewish community that would not again fall into the sins of the past. In a sense he was fully prepared with new strategies to win the last war, but failed to see that he was setting up the conditions for future conflicts for which there were no strategies.
Paul, for all his faults, seemed to have more fully grasped both the truth of what it means to follow Christ and the folly of Ezra’s politics. He was intent on forming faithful communities of Christians who could also be concerned for the peace and prosperity of those around them. I wonder when we might start understanding what Paul understood?