What king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? It is disconcerting, isn’t it, to hear those words of today’s gospel against the backdrop of these headlines from this week’s papers.
• Obama seeks wider range of military options for Syria.
• Russia vows to help Syria if it’s attacked
• Pope appeals to world leaders to avoid ‘futile’ Syria strike.
So if we could update Jesus’ words: What president thinking of going to war will not first calculate if he, with his cruise missiles from the air instead of boots on the ground, can successfully deter a leader from future use of chemical weapons without starting world war III?
And I wonder, how has this world stayed in these conversations about military strikes, after all these years of following the prince of peace? The peacemaker in me is saddened that war still seems to be the preferred way to oppose evil. The skeptic in me wonders if we truly have exhausted all the other avenues to right this wrong as the administration proposes. The justice seeker in me ponders how we might hold those responsible accountable. And the disciple in me wonders “how am I to take up my cross and follow after Jesus during this process of our nation’s leaders deciding what course of action to pursue.
How can you not squirm after reading today’s gospel and the day’s headlines?
I am not here to advocate one side or the other of that decision. My heart would tell me one thing: “Study war no more!” We have already been down that road in human history. It is a dry well. It simply leads to more wars and more violence. My head would tell me another: “Assad has barely put a dent in his enormous stockpile of chemical weapons. And the international community has clearly not put a dent in his willingness to use them.” How do we take up our cross and follow as disciples?
What I put forward as a gospel response is what is at the heart of today’s gospel message. Find a way to put Jesus in the center of this Syrian crisis. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that followers have a stark choice to make, even outside the context of such a momentous set of decisions as the world faces with Syria. Jesus must be loved first and last and everything else must find its value in relationship to him. That covers everything from our relationship to our parents and children on the local scale, to our relationship to diplomacy vs. cruise missiles on the global scale. Jesus must be loved first and last, and EVERYTHING, even our response to Syria, must find its value in him.
That is an easy principal to state and a difficult one to put into practice.
That is why Pope Francis urged the worlds’ Catholics to make yesterday (Saturday) a day of prayer and fasting for Syria. If you didn’t get the memo, then make tomorrow (Monday) that day. Let the hunger you feel and the ache in your belly become a prayer against the hatred that fuels both sides of the conflict. May the ‘space’ we open up in our hearts for the suffering people of Syria, somehow create a space for God to dwell, in the hearts of Assad and his government and the rebels who oppose him, as well as the innocents caught in between.
And then pray. Pray for the first and always preferred option, the ability to oppose evil without becoming the evil you are opposing. Pray – pray as Jesus did upon the cross, for the grace not to transmit this world’s pain, nor to stand idle while we create another generation of martyrs and victims and collaborators in the art of war, but rather pray for the grace to transform this world’s pain by our love and fasting…