Readings: James 4:1-10; Matthew 5:20-24
It is, of course, impossible to find words with which to respond to the disastrous events that are being reported. The readings of this liturgy, however, turn our thoughts to the question: what causes catastrophes such as this? We might be inclined to lay the blame on the advanced technology which has so vastly increased the possibilities of destructive acts. But technology is not a cause of anything; it can be used indifferently for good and evil. The source of evil, as the Letter of James reminds us, is "the passions that are at war in our members." Everything depends upon the human heart, which can turn technical power to its own ends. If the heart is filled with anger, jealousy, and hatred, the finest products of human invention can be converted into instruments of violence and destruction. Murder, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel reading, has its source in anger and contempt for others. The two readings together prompt us to look into our own hearts and to eradicate the seeds of enmity and conflict that may be growing there.
In our studies of history and politics we tend to concentrate on the rivalries and struggles between different classes, races, or nations. We divide the world into competing power blocs, equipped with armies and arsenals. But events such as we have experienced this morning prompt us to look deeper, at the invisible realm in which the forces of light and darkness, good and evil, clash in unceasing strife. It is in this larger battle that we must take a position, if we want our lives to rise above the self-interest of the particular group to which we belong.
The light of Christ exposes this deeper realm to view. Our true battle, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, is not against flesh and blood but against "the spiritual hosts of wickedness." The true enemy is not some other earthly power, but a malignancy that may well be found at home as well as abroad, in our own culture and even in our own hearts. The forces of hatred and violence, as we have learned today, have their apostles and martyrs. Jesus asks for volunteers who will dedicate themselves to spreading the gospel of peace and building a civilization of love.
I am old enough to remember the terrible day when the news of Pearl Harbor broke upon us. I was at the time a first-year law student, and I knew in an instant that my world would never be the same again. Today is a similar turning point in history. Our nation will survive. Peace and prosperity will again return, as they always have in the past.
"Let not your hearts be troubled," says the Lord. He has not left us orphans. Peace is his gift to us. But in this life peace is never untroubled. For perfect and abiding peace we must await the day when Christ returns to establish his final kingdom.