Bread – Appeasement

August 14, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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How many of us, in our desire to obtain peace in our conversation and relationship, will agree with those with whom we disagree fundamentally? We blame politicians for this all the time, but don’t we do the same thing? We think that by holding onto our belief secretly, that somehow in appeasing the other side we have not compromised ourselves. However, that is not true. When we know the truth and choose not to speak the truth in appeasement to other people’s thinking, we deny the truth. We actually set ourselves in an inferior position, because we believe that we must be quiet in the face of opposition, even though the people in opposition are not quiet themselves. Whether we label this “tolerance” or an ability to get along with others, in our search to avoid being a bully we let ourselves be bullied. In our efforts to reach Jesus’ standard of turning the other cheek, we reject Jesus’ standard of speaking the truth in all circumstances, understanding that persecution is a likely outcome. We don’t understand the difference between a personal insult (to which we should turn the other cheek, as the only violation is against us) and a statement hostile to the kingdom of God (to which we should never turn the other cheek, as the violation is against God and we are His ambassadors on earth).

In today’s reading from Acts, we actually see the Church, represented by the Jerusalem Council, in full appeasement mode. Paul is before the Council explaining to them the mighty work which God has accomplished among the Gentiles. The response of the Council is to say: “You see, brother, how may thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach the all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses….” Acts 21:20. To translate, “We have a bunch of our fellow Jews who are greatly concerned that the Jews you are teaching are not zealous for the law, like they (and we) are.” The Council then notes, however, that they have given an exception to the Gentiles, telling them that they do not need to obey the law of Moses except by abstaining from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood and what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. The Council then asks Paul to purify himself in accordance with the law of Moses, so “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” Acts 21:24

What the Church in Jerusalem is about doing is appeasing two factions, one (the Jews) with requiring Paul to strictly observe the law while in Jerusalem and the other (the Gentiles) with a “law lite” set of requirements. This appeasement does bring a temporary peace to the conversation, but does it result in bringing wholeness or reconciliation to anything? This appeasement does what all appeasements do – it kicks the can down the road. And much of the letters written by Paul afterwards constitute instructions about how to deal with those who would add works to grace (adding the law to grace links works to salvation). And this controversy has never left the Church.

Of course, those people on the spot, who had to deal with the conflict, would say that appeasement to the different groups was necessary to buy time, to reduce tensions, to defuse anger, to permit opportunity for “more dialogue” among the competing factions, to properly manage a volatile situation. And, from a worldly point of view, they are right. But are they right from a kingdom point of view?

Everyone knows that today, from the secular media to my own children, the Church is indistinguishable from the world by most measures, such as divorce rate, sexual promiscuity, etc. As part of the generalized appeasement going around to achieve an appearance of “tolerance,” there is a growing wave of belief that there are many routes to heaven and Jesus’ claim to exclusivity is, well, just a claim which has no real effect on “enlightened” people such as ourselves (after all, we have that source of all wisdom – the Internet [I say tongue in cheek]).

But appeasement is fake. When I withhold the truth from my neighbor in order to avoid conflict, I do neither my neighbor nor myself any favor. Is it “tolerance” when my neighbor lives in his house thinking his thoughts and I live in my house thinking my thoughts, and neither of us believes enough in what we believe to engage each other, and neither of us has enough trust in the other to expose ourselves to critique, thinking that any and all critique is “intolerance?”

No, the greater “tolerance” is when I respect my neighbor and I love him even when he is “wrong,” when I engage him in decent debate about our respective understandings, when I am always careful to first check out the log in my eye instead of the speck in his. Real tolerance exists when appeasement does not exist, and yet the two warring parties sit down to dinner together, knowing that at the end they are neighbors, they are people, they all fall short, and that none of us is righteous or better in our own merit.

There is no need of appeasement when we know that God handles the outcome, and our only job is to speak the truth in love and to exercise the gifts we have been given, taking the great idol of ourselves out of the picture.

So who are we going to appease today? Andy why?

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© 2013 GBF

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