We know that Jesus identified himself with the suffering and the sinful, the poor and the oppressed. We know that he went out of his way to befriend social outcasts. We know that he warned us against the deceitfulness of riches, that wealth and great possessions so easily come between us and God, and divide us from our neighbours. The worship of middle-class comfort is surely a side-chapel in the temple of Mammon. It attracts large congregations, and Friends have been known to frequent it. We know that Jesus had compassion on the multitude and taught them many things concerning the Kingdom. He respected the common folk, appealed to them and was more hopeful of a response from them than from the well-to-do, the clever and the learned. Yet he never flattered the workers, never fostered in them feelings of envy and hatred, and never urged them to press for their own interests ruthlessly and fight the class war to the finish. He called them to love their enemies and to pray for them that despitefully use them. Yet the very fact that he appealed to the humble and meek leads up to … ‘the discovery that the blessing and upraising of the masses are the fundamental interest of society’. In brief, he makes us all ashamed that we are not all out in caring for our fellow-men.
H G Wood, 1958 – Quaker Faith & Practice 23.03
I sometimes think that in our zeal for activism, in our “[r]emember[ing of our] responsibility as citizens for the government of [our] town and country” (QFP 23.01) we run the risk that all politicians run, of flattering, of fostering feelings of envy and hatred – for it is all too often on such emotions that political campaigns are run.
As Quakers concerned deeply with our testimony to equality, it seems to me that we need always to keep in mind the testimonies to integrity and peace also, and that can be hard to do when we are cut to the heart by some injustice or cruelty. I’m really grateful, at times like this, to be reminded, as this passage from QFP reminds us, of Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and to pray for them.
My own awareness of my imperfection, of the dark shadow of bitter emotions I share with all who are human, gives me at least a place to start loving those I find it so hard to love; yet love them I must, unless I am to contribute my own share to the violence and grief of the world.
Of course I then come all too soon to the question that so often troubles me: what on earth do I pray for? I cannot know in detail how to solve the social and political issues facing the country. But in a way this unknowing may be at the heart of prayer itself – an advantage, almost. Prayer is not a list of demands we make of God, as if such a thing were possible. Prayer, as Michael Ramsey wrote, is “being with God, putting [myself] in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart.”
Quietly drawing close to God, accepting my own blurred awareness of how far we all are from truly living by the testimonies to equality and peace, and holding that in the light and the love that God is, is all I can do. What God may call me to do under more immediate circumstances I have not yet seen; I can only hope that if so, I will be able to offer at least something, in love.