Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 12:9-18 – July 20, 2012)
I once served under a bishop who used a slightly edited version of this text as his final blessing at the conclusion of a eucharist, adding “and may the blessing of God Almighty (etc.)” to Paul’s admonitions. Whenever he would recite these words, my mind would stumble over that last sentence: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Doesn’t it always depend on us? Isn’t that the point of the gospel mandate, to live peaceably with all even when they don’t want to? Isn’t that what “turn the other cheek” and “give even your cloak” and “go the extra” (Matt. 5:39-41) mile are all about? It is always in our power to do the peaceable thing.
As I read this lesson and contemplate its meaning and find this minor disagreement with Paul, I am also mindful of last night’s dreadful events in Aurora, Colorado, another mass killing. At last report, 14 killed and 50 or more injured by a gunman at a movie theatre.
On our parish’s Facebook page this morning, I posted the same picture I am attaching here, together with this prayer which I edited out of the New Zealand Prayer Book:
O Lord, we commend those killed and injured in the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, into your loving care. Enfold them in the arms of your mercy. Bless those who died in their dying and in their rising again in you. Be with those who are injured and give wisdom and skill to those who care for them. Bless those whose hearts are filled with sadness, that they too may know the hope of resurrection; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
How is it possible to bless and not curse the killer? How is it possible to “live in harmony” in this instant? I confess that I do not know and that the lawyer part of me, the litigator, wants to see him hanged from the gallows as soon as possible. But the Christian part of me reads this lesson and struggles not to be on the side of repaying evil with evil. The best I can do is to pray for the victims and, as for the shooter, offer the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” That’s the best I can do. I hope that it will suffice as the peaceable thing today.
Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.