Terms such as peace, love, honor, stability, relationships, and care are very catchy to someone like me. They are catchy to someone born and brought up in a country where peaceful relationship is a rarity. Given its political history, east Africa and its adjacent region of the Middle East are known throughout the history of humanity by unstable systems of governance.
I was born and brought up in a country called Ethiopia in the eastern part of Africa. This is a country which claims to have a history of 3,000 years. In reality, its modern empire state is just about 100 years old, consolidated under the emperor Minilike by colonizing the southern kingdoms and regional states. In both historical accounts, meaning in the account of the Ethiopian chroniclers attributing 3,000 years of national history or in the factual 100 years of national statehood consolidated by Minilike, one fact stands out very clearly: This country has never seen a single day without war until today.
War has been the national trademark, part of the national news, and it is always included in daily talks on the streets of the nation.
* Hatred breeds hatred.
* Bloodshed breeds bloodshed.
* Violence produces violence.
* Injustice begets misery and lawlessness.
When children are born and brought up in such a place, they tend to believe that this is just something to be seen as a viable option and as a normal pattern of relationship for people to engage in. Violence seems to be a way to go, even a justifiable way of settling differences by securing superior status over the one on the other side of the fence. This is the way I was brought up into mature manhood. It is more than likely that I was, of course, impacted by such an enormous contextual reality in which I am placed. My thinking, reflections, opinion, and reaction to different circumstances are derived from things in my background that provided the holistic fibers by which I was wired.
Today millions of children across the continent of Africa, the Middle Eastern region, across Eastern Europe and within the inner cities of western Metropolitan cities of western nations are being brought up into becoming mature men and women under the direct influence of cultures of violence and dysfunctional social structures. These environments are populating our world with citizens characterized by embedded hostility and innate inclinations towards invoking violence as a viable means of resolving differences. In 2002 President Jimmy Carter, in his Nobel Peace prize award reception speech, clearly noted that "our world has become a more dangerous place to live." This is, of course, true, given what we see on our TV screens and on the front pages of major newspapers across the globe.
In most cases, heads of states, governments, and community leaders are very hesitant and extra cautious in summoning religious communities into the mix to bring about a peaceful ending to the whole process. Fundamentalism, religious radicalism, and religiously instigated clashes are mushrooming. In such a time as this where media is pulling the whole world very close to each other through multitudes of communication media, it is rather ironic for humanity to find itself back in the ditches of mistrust and mutual mistreatment. In other words, religions are losing their relevance in making a credible difference within the actual lives of the global community.
Jesus, in his words, as stated in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verse(s) 28-34 amplifies love as the greatest commandment. Jesus portrays love as the prime mark of the kingdom of God. In delineating this truth, he breaks it down based on the traditional explications of the Hebrew Bible or the sacred texts of the Old Testament.
According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is
* Shema Israel (which means "Hear, O Israel.") This is trying to capture the attention of the whole nation regardless of their tribal affiliations, age, gender, class, or religious grouping. It is a universal demand within the nation of Israel.
* The Lord our God is one. This clarifies the fact that when it comes to paying a loving allegiance to the Lord our God, there is no distinction that stands out as a mark of division. The unity emerges out of the monotheistic manifestation of God. This is one God. This one God is the object of our love in its entirety and our subjection in loving allegiance.
* You shall love the Lord your God. It was and is very unusual for a divine and superior supernatural God to aspire love as a mark of relationship. In most cases, deities expect their subjects or followers absolute and uncompromising obedience or allegiance mostly marked by sacrifices, gifts, and offerings. In a completely opposite manner, this God speaks about loving relationship on the basis of the gift and the offering he brings to the altar. It was unheard of for a deity to bring a sacrifice to the altar as atonement, which was a means of bringing oneness between himself and his followers. Furthermore, love is not part of the vocabulary list utilized in the context of religious traditions as a means and as a mark of relationships between God and God's subjects.
* Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. This was a very explicit and detailed description of the expected nature of love. This call into a loving relationship between God and his followers seeks to be holistic, coming from the intrinsic and extrinsic nature of our entire being. This is demanded because what is given corresponds to what is sought. The type of love God stretches to the world has come from the heart, from the soul, from the mind, and from the mighty strength of God. God had never kept anything reserved for himself but loved the world until he gave his only begotten Son. That was love unlike any other. Mismatched love creates a huge barrier over the developmental pace and nature of divine love. When the two parties are not bringing everything within their nature to the table to create a just and equitable relationship in love, that relationship shall undergo all sorts of diversions and impediments. As we receive God's best, we have to be prepared to offer our best in exchange. That is the innate nature of a working love relationship.
* Love your neighbor as yourself. Love of a neighbor flows out of a living and a loving relationship we have with God. When we love God, that love takes the love of self out of the mix. Loving God leaves nothing behind. It is holistic in the true sense of the word. Therefore, when we give our all to God without keeping anything for ourselves, the fullness of God's love dwells in the city of our soul. By then, loving our neighbor as ourself becomes a reality. After all, it's no more I that lives but, rather, it's Christ who lives in me; therefore, sharing my new identity with others becomes my duty by the virtue of my new identity. Christ lived in this world to give away everything within him. His time, resources, his body, blood, spirit, soul, and even breath was to be given away. There was nothing to be held back by this precious master called Jesus. If this person lives in us to shape, mold, and characterize our life after his own image and likeness, loving a neighbor as ourselves becomes a normal practice and pattern of our life.
The kingdom of God is built and maintained by love. This message is the only hope and remedy for the sick soul and for the infected conscience of humanity as a whole. In our going out and coming in, if we are Christians, this message of love is ringing very loudly and audibly for us to remember and practice it. In history, great empires come and go. Great leaders rise and fall. Wealth, power and fame and might are proven to be transient in nature. There is no permanency in their nature. The only power that is proven to be permanent is the power of love. 1 Corinthians 13 declares this clearly, stating, "Love never fails."
Let us pray.
Dear gracious and loving Father, we ask your loving Son to dwell in us fully and completely, to hold our hearts in his hand so that we can melt and be transformed by his living love that flows out of the cross. Father, help us to understand it and live it accordingly. In the name of Jesus. Amen.