I believe the world is currently witnessing a wonderful miracle, but I don’t hear much talk about it. It seems to be going totally unnoticed. I’m referring to the miracle of the U.S. cessation of retaliatory bombing strikes in response to the chemical weapons crisis in Syria only days after Pope Francis’ Saturday, September 7th call for prayer and fasting. I truly hate that chemical weapons were used on anybody, at anytime …anytime throughout history. And at the same time, I hate that bullets, bombs …jet airplanes have been used in violence against civilians and innocent victims as well. And sadly we as a country are currently so polarized; in this latest Middle-East crisis, politically one side will see complete failure, while another side sees victory. It’s such an either/or culture we live in. But I see something besides failure or victory in this latest crisis: I see a miracle of a third way.
There’s a wonderful book by the late Walter Wink, “Jesus and Nonviolence, A Third Way.” In his book, Wink gives us examples of how Jesus’ wisdom points out a third way, when he is presented with situations that seem to call for -usually a harsh -either/or solution. One example I especially like is his comparison of The Woman Caught in Adultery –John 8: 3-11 with the story of Susanna’s Virtue –Daniel 13: 1-64.
In the story of Susanna, two elders of the community spy on the beautiful Susanna while she is bathing in her garden. They are overwhelmed by lust and they approach her demanding that she lay with them. If she refuses, they tell her they will report her for having sexual relations with a young man, not her husband thus committing adultery, and she will be put to death. But, Susanna refuses to submit to them. During the subsequent trial, the prophet Jeremiah separates the two elders. They each tell slightly different versions of their story, so their lie is exposed to the community. “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,” Daniel says. Their perjury costs both men their lives.
When Jesus is approached by the scribes and Pharisees and the crowd with a woman caught in adultery, he is asked what should be done with her. After all, according to the Law, adultery calls for death by stoning. Jesus pauses. He draws in the dirt, taking time to reflect. After a few moments, his solution: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one they dropped their stones, and leave the scene, starting with the elders. Jesus is left alone with the woman. He offers her forgiveness and says: “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”
The two stories are striking in their contrasts: a guilty woman and an innocent woman; guilty elders, and innocent elders -who happen to know they are sinners; a violent end to one story, and a peaceful end, with pardon and love in the other.
It seems to me a third way was found in the Syrian crisis when a little over a week ago, Pope Francis called the world to prayer, -the entire world: Muslims, Jews, Christians, (and according to his recent statements, apparently all women and men of good will.) And within hours really, a third way solution arose. Let’s put them under a neutral parties’ control and out of the Syrian arsenal, the Holy Spirit whispered into someone’s ear. The chemical weapons were simply taken out of the equation, and now it appears they are to be destroyed altogether.
So, I say let’s recognize and celebrate this miracle of peace, and give Pope Francis some credit for calling the world to prayer and reflection …much like Jesus scribbling in the dirt, pausing in the heat of a crisis. Let us pray for all those in war torn countries, that their conflicts may be brought to resolution through peaceful means. And let’s continue to pray that the elders of our time will be able to walk away from relying so readily on violence to solve the world’s problems.