Radical reconciliation

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday his hand was extended to Hamas for reconciliation and called on his Islamist rivals to sign an Egyptian proposal to end their division. “We have agreed to the Egyptian document and we call upon Hamas to accept it without procrastination,” he said. “Our hand is extended for reconciliation.” — Reuters, Nov 11, 2009

arab-israeli-conflictPeace is only possible where the benefits of unity outweigh the benefits of animosity. If Hamas reconciles with the elected Palestinian leadership, it risks being subverted but gains organizational legitimacy and a strategic insider’s advantage in determining the future of the Palestinian cause. If it rejects reconciliation, it gains a reputation for political purity but risks being marginalized and relegated to the sidelines of history.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus encouraged his listeners to take heart in hard circumstances (blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn), live rightly (blessed are the meek, the righteous and the pure in heart) and generously (blessed are the merciful).

Then he praised peacemakers in a special way, saying that by their work they will be known as God’s kin.

It’s easy to become jaded about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. As long as the Arabs remain committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, there can be no peace. But it is still a good thing, a godly thing, to remain hopeful and to try to lead the Arabs and Israelis towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation between individuals is no less difficult than between great political powers. Relational unity has its benefits and its costs, too. Humans are imperfect, living together creates friction, and our relationships are always a mix of joy and frustration, peace and war.

A good friend left his wife for another woman. His wife was taken by surprise; she thought they had a good marriage. He was a great father to their two small children and had seemed happy. But without any fanfare, he announced one evening that he was leaving.

I thought I might be able to reason with him, to get him to see what he was giving up, to make him see the hurt he was causing his children, to put him back in touch with the love he used to have for his wife. It didn’t happen. There was something in this new relationship that was so psychologically compelling that he was unwilling to reconcile, no matter what the cost.

Yet as difficult as it is, Christians should recognize that the very core of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross was a radical attempt at reconciliation between God and all of humanity. As grateful beneficiaries of this reconciliation, we are to respond by taking this message of peace, this Good News, to others.

[God] has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ; and he has made us agents of the reconciliation. God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself — not counting their sins against them — and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. … For God caused Christ, who himself knew nothing of sin, actually to be sin for our sakes, so that in Christ we might be made good with the goodness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, 21, JB Phillips (Paul writing)

The New Testament word translated here as reconciliation is katallasso, which is a term from commerce referring to the exchange of two things of equal value. If I sell 100 Mexican pesos for US dollars, I can expect to receive $7.75 at the current rate. That’s katallasso. Imagine an ancient scale where the two sides are carefully brought into balance, into agreement.

It’s human nature to look out for number one first. We often hold reconciliation hostage to a demand for fairness, justice, compensation for our suffering, a recognition of our rights. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but they suggest that we are too often more concerned with being vindicated than with restoring a broken relationship.

God’s radical reconciliation is extravagant compared to ours. He has tipped the scales dramatically in our favor, exchanging our guilt for clemency, our alienation for fellowship, our sins for the righteousness of Christ.

In a small town consumed by blood feuds and vendettas stretching back generations, a young Christian man and his wife are trying to live out Jesus’ radical katallasso. His wife explains:

Theo wanted me to marry him, but another girl had her eyes on him, too. Her father threatened to kill Theo if he married me. We got married, and the threats began right away. Late one night we were out shopping when a man came up to Theo, pulled up his shirt to show him a pistol, and said, “I have a bullet for you.” I was terrified and wanted to turn him in, but Theo said, “No, we need to forgive him.” Theo still greets this man with friendly words on the street. I never knew how to forgive. Theo has taught me that as Christians we have the strength to forgive.

What would our relationships look like if we could practice Theo’s forgiveness and live out his commitment to peace each day in our schools, our offices, our homes?

God’s radical reconciliation on the cross is meant to be an example to us. Having received this generous gift, how shall we then live?

Photo credit: Dismal World

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