context

fistRegular bloggists will know that I have been following a series of 40 readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In case you have missed the previous thoughts I have shared, let me remind you that he was a German pastor who was arrested (and executed) for being an outspoken critic of Nazi Germany. He wrote this:

Words and thoughts are not enough. Doing good involves all the things of daily life. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20). In the same ways that brothers and sisters stand by each other in times of need, bind up each other’s wounds, ease each other’s pain, love of the enemy should do good to the enemy. Where in the world is there greater need, where are deeper wounds and pain than those of our enemies? Where is doing good more necessary and more blessed than for our enemies?

In prayer we go to our enemies, to stand at their side. We are with them, near them, for them before God. Jesus does not promise us that the enemy we love, we bless, to whom we do good, will not abuse and persecute us. They will do so. But even in doing so, they cannot harm and conquer us if we take this last step to them in intercessory prayer. Now we are taking up their neediness and poverty, their being guilty and lost, and interceding for them before God. We are doing for them in vicarious representative action what they cannot do for themselves. Every insult from our enemy will only bind us closer to God and to our enemy. Every persecution can only serve to bring the enemy closer to reconciliation with God, to make love more unconquerable.

How does love become unconquerable? By never asking what the enemy is doing to it, and only asking what Jesus has done. Loving one’s enemies leads disciples to the way of the cross and into communion with the crucified one.

They are powerful words, but the context in which they were written make them even more remarkable. His ‘enemies’ were people whose ideology was diametrically opposed to his. His enemies were far more powerful than he was. His enemies could (and did) destroy him almost without thinking.

It puts our petty squabbles into perspective doesn’t it?

Alongside the wisdom and depth of what Bonhoeffer wrote, the context speaks almost as loudly and poignantly. And context makes all the difference. Someone striking someone else in the stomach could look like an assault. Or it could be that they are trying to dislodge some food that is choking the victim. A shaking fist can indicate anger or victory. It’s one of the classic plots in TV dramas – someone sees or overhears something when they don’t know the whole context and draw the wrong conclusion. The outcome can be tragic or comedic and the consequences are worked out.

But when it is real life we would do well to pause and ascertain the true context rather than jumping to conclusions. When we do we may find that those whom we thought were our enemies actually are people in need of God’s love expressed through us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

Blessings from Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have been following a series of 40 daily readings from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German Christian pastor who was arrested for opposing Hitler during the Second World War. He died in captivity shortly before the end of the war.

 

These readings from the last couple of days made me think about churches as Christian communities:

Reading 1

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…

Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly…

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily.

Reading 2

Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness…

Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again. It can only come from the outside. In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing us redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God put this Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others. When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened.

Be blessed, be a blessing.