[This is from a sermon preached at Peace Mennonite Church on August 4, 2013. See this page for the full sermon text.]
In many ways, this odd little fable-story from 2 Kings reveals the folly of our attempts at national security. But in the end, Israel does achieve security.
Elisha will not let the King kill the Syrians. Instead Elisha has the Israelites prepare a great banquet for the Syrians and then send them on their way. The last line of the passage says, “The Syrians came no more on raids into the land of Israel.”
This, more than any other part of this story, is what makes me want to classify it as a fable. Because you know and I know that there is no way the Syrians and Israelites lived happily ever after. Human nature argues against it. And history reveals prolonged, ongoing violence between the two nations.
It would be nice if one good potluck could create world peace. But that’s just not how the world works.
Though there is another story I can tell you.
Once upon a time–about 2003, during the US invasion of Iraq– there was a group of Christians who went to Baghdad with Christian Peacemaker teams. They went to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people. They went to witness to the love of God in Christ and to show that not all people from the United States viewed Iraqi people as “the enemy.”
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was with that CPT group. He was in Iraq when US troops bombed the town of Rutba, demolishing the hospital there. He was in Iraq three days later when his American friends’ car hit a piece of shrapnel in the road and rolled into a ditch.
(You may know another story about someone traveling on a dangerous path, then ending up bleeding on the side of the road. This is like that.)
Some Iraqis stopped and rescued Jonathan’s friends. The Iraqis took them to Rutba, where a doctor provided the best medical service he could considering their hospital had just been bombed. These Iraqis saved the lives of those Americans.
And when Jonathan asked the doctor what they owed for the medical care, the doctor simply said, “Go and tell people what is happening in Rutba.” And that is just what he has done–in personal conversations and essays and blog posts and speeches and, most recently, a book.
Now, this story of Rutba is true, so it doesn’t exactly end with a “happily ever after.” I wish I could say, “And Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove told his tale to President Bush and the American troops left Iraq and never dropped a bomb there again.” But I can’t.
I can, however, tell you that each time the story of Rutba is told, those who hear it have a chance to open their eyes and see the people of Iraq as fellow human beings rather than “the enemy.” That the kindness and generosity the Americans experienced in Rutba has likely accomplished more for Iraqi national security than any number of improvised explosive devices.
That is the truth of the story of Rutba. That is the truth of our scripture this morning. That is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Our national security–our personal safety and security for that matter–does not come in defeating our enemies, but in loving our enemies. In praying for our enemies. It sitting at the table with our enemies.
Like many of Jesus’ teachings, this one is a bit of a trick, a paradox. I imagine Jesus saying it with a knowing grin: “Love your enemies.”
Because, of course, when we do love our enemies, they are no longer our enemies.
Thanks be to God.