"but I say..." (thoughts on the 13th anniversary of 9/11)

resize911Today’s the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, when people around the world will remember with sad hearts the unexpected violence that occurred that day.

We’ll also remember the violence that continues around the world today.  Sex trafficking, beheadings, child labor, homicide, domestic violence...the list is depressingly long.

Over the past few months, as the hellish summer unfolded, I’d listen to news reports on the radio and find myself asking two questions:

“Jesus, how can this be?”

And, “Jesus, what am I supposed to do -- especially when none of this is my fault?"

As I look at the world, I feel completely helpless, as I suspect most of us do.  No one I know is in a position to negotiate truces between warring countries, or reason with terrorists, or rescue victims who are abused and killed by their captors.

The easiest position I’ve found is to stand enlightened on a hill overlooking the rest of the world, shaking my head and thanking God that I’m not capable of, and not culpable for, the evil that I see.

But today as I woke up and meditated and prayed for the world, the words of Jesus came to mind.  In Matthew 5, he makes a series of statements, “You have heard it said...but I say…”  And in these few verses, he ups the ante.  He doesn’t let those of us who have never murdered or committed adultery or other “serious” sins to go free.

Instead, he transcends the (relatively low) standards that most of us have been holding ourselves to.

In Matthew 5, he takes an Old Testament rule and says, "You've heard it said..."  And then he lays out the new, transcendent way of being with, "but I say..."

You’ve heard it said, “Don’t murder people.”  Well, the new standard is, “Don’t hate anyone.  And, not only that, but be quick to reconcile with people you’ve wronged or who have wronged you.”

You’ve heard it said, “Don’t commit adultery.”  Well, the new standard is, “Don’t even think about disrupting the sacred bonds of marriage, even in your imagination."

You’ve heard it said, “Don’t break an oath.”  The new standard is, “Don’t give yourself any loopholes, and don’t be knowingly deceptive.”

You’ve heard it said, “Love your neighbor.”  The new standard is, “Don’t just tolerate your enemies; love them.  Actively pray for them and pursue them.”


It’s as if the Old Testament rules were about cancerous tumors, and the new standard is to watch out not just for the tumors, but for the individual, microscopic mutations that, if multiplied millions of times over, lead to the visible cancer.

It’s easy for us to look at the world and think we’re absolved of any guilt because we’re not beheading innocent people or kidnapping anyone or starving political prisoners.  But I don’t think it’s enough for us to hold ourselves to this relatively easy standard.

Instead, I think we’re called to see the microscopic mutations in our hearts that, if maginified a million-fold, become the caricatures of evil we see around the world today.

I’m not committing murder.  Awesome.  But am I hating or demeaning or mocking or getting angry at someone I disagree with?

I’m trying to love my neighbor.  Very cool.  But am I loving and blessing and praying for my enemy?  Or am I reposting snarky memes about them on Facebook?

I can see that the boundaries that many countries go to war over are ridiculous.  Groovy.  But do I also see that in my own life, I live in the false dichotomies of blue and red, democrats and republicans, saved and unsaved, black and white, legal and illegal immigrants?  And do I dislike, judge, mock or punish people in the “other” category?

I’m trying to love my neighbor.  Great.  But do I go even further and refuse to have enemies?

I treat my friends and family well.  Nice.  But do I pray for, bless and love people who don’t show the same grace to me?

On the anniversary of a horrific event, maybe the best way to commemorate this day is to look with new eyes -- not at the world around us, but deep inside ourselves.  

In the human body, if every cell replicates like it’s supposed to, no cancer will ever arise.

And in our world, if each of us takes care of our own hearts, takes responsibility for our own emotions and attitudes and actions, and reflects nothing but God’s love and mercy to the world around us -- that’s not only the beginning of a solution to the world’s problems; it’s the solution itself.