“[Jesus] knew what [the Pharisees] were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.’” (Matthew 12:25, NRSV)
The events at the United States Capitol last week were disturbing on so many levels. In the subsequent days, our perceptions of these events may stem from preconceived notions, both conscious and unconscious. I implore all of us to challenge our assumptions and take a perspective on our perspectives. Regardless of our disparate conclusions, I think we can all agree that the most obvious conclusion is that we are a divided nation. We evaluate most ideological positions through the lens of a partisan political filter. If only we would be so thorough and faithful in viewing the ideas and issues of the day through the eyes of Jesus, we might be able to find greater unity.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 12:25 come from when the Pharisees challenged him after he healed a man who was blind, unable to speak, and possessed by a demon. The crowd who witnessed the healing speculated Jesus was the "Son of David," a way to refer to the Messiah. The Pharisees, captive to their predisposition against Jesus, declared that he must have appealed to Beelzebul, a reference to Satan, to help him heal the man. Jesus pointed out the nonsense in their thinking, for if Satan were to cast himself out of the man, it would have been an act of self-annihilation.
Abraham Lincoln used this biblical text in a speech given following his nomination by the Illinois Republican Party as a candidate for the United States Senate in 1858. His point was that the United States would not be able to endure as a nation if some states operated as free states while other states operated as slave states. This dichotomy represented such a divergence of values that, in his opinion, the two could not coexist and therefore was unsustainable. Although he lost his Senate campaign to the incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas, it was only two years later that Lincoln won the presidency during the most divisive time in our nation.
In March of 1863, President Lincoln issued the second of three Presidential Proclamations issued during his presidency, calling our nation's citizens to a "day of humiliation and fasting." Here is a part of his order:
Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;
And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
In response to the events of last week at the Capitol, I am committing to humbling myself in prayer and fasting, confessing my sins, and praying for compassion and forgiveness, so that God may direct me in my part in the healing of our nation. I invite you to join me, specifically on Monday, January 18th, for a time of focused prayer and meditation, as well as fasting, if you are able, so that we may be used by God in the mending of the brokenness of our nation.