I sat with a young Turkish couple this morning for a little bit. They invited me for tea, and we visited on their stoop, talking about Turkey and its future, about Antakya and its diversity. They worry for their futures, aware of Syria to the east and fearing the hardening line of their own government. "We have a beautiful city," the young man said to me. "We all get along, we visit with each other. It can be this way." But there was in his tone the hint of an almost unspeakable fear: chaos, conflict, neighbors on the edge.
It seems quite possible that the Gospel of Matthew was first written here, in ancient Antioch on the Orontes River, in the 70s or 80s of the Common Era. I'm moved, walking these old streets, by this history and by the history of Matthew's narrative. Who will bring the Sermon on the Mount to life in our own divided generation? Who will make plain and compelling Jesus' call to turn the other cheek, moving creatively and bravely to interrupt terrible cycles of violence and rage? I love these texts so much, so much that I can't yet give up on them. But where will the light come from? Who will shine it once more on the Sermon or the Parable of the Last Judgment? Without a beloved community, without communities of praxis--is the Sermon on the Mount meaningful anymore? In Damascus? In Mosul? In Jerusalem?
But even that's simple-minded.
What about my own people? What about my own Christian community? What will the US church do to repent of our American addiction to violence and oil and hubris in foreign affairs? Will we read and read and read the Sermon on the Mount--as sweet counsel, interesting ethical insight--but turn from practice and discipline and the cost of it? From afar this month, I'm praying for my Presbyterian friends and colleagues who are, at the very least, making an effort to struggle with these questions in relationship to nonviolent witness in Palestine and Israel. It's a messy and complicated endeavor, this gospel life. And there are indeed hurt feelings and bruised relationships along the way. But I want so much to cast my lot with Matthew's Sermon and with Jesus' courage.