Analytical Review of Jim Forest's "Loving Our Enemies" & "Ladder of the Beatitudes" - Amy Armistad

Screen Shot 2023-11-19 at 2.37.02 PMIntroduction

Jesus Christ reconciled everything to himself on the cross and invites us to partake in the Kingdom of God by participating in his work of reconciliation. The Sermon on the Mount is the Jesus Way to bring the Kingdom of God to earth; asking us to journey on our own Golgotha road, to our crucifixion and resurrection for personal transformation and the transformation of our communities and the world.

Individual Transformation

The Jesus Way reflects a cycle of crucifixion and resurrection, ensuring a pattern of life and growth, where we become new creations. We may not experience physical crucifixion on a cross for others’ sake as Jesus did, but He shows us in the Sermon on the Mount how we are to demonstrate that same love. It is a love that requires self-emptying but will result in our transformation.

The Sermon on the Mount, or the Jesus Way, starts with the Beatitudes, “Each of the eight describes aspects of being in the kingdom of God. They are like rungs on a ladder, which Christ has arranged in exact order.…Each step builds on the foundation of the previous step…” (Ladder, 2). We start with the first beatitude cultivating a poverty of spirit as we surrender our will to His. The Sermon on the Mount will reveal our selfishness, envy, fear, and pride as we move up the rungs on the ladder. However, rooting out these vices will put us on the road to recovery, allowing us to mourn for others, be generous, turn the other cheek, and lead a flourishing life. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving aid this process and deepen our connection with God and those in need (Ladder,147, 127).

It may seem ironic that poverty of heart causes us to pour out to others, but it is the Beatitude blessings and infilling of Jesus’s love that transforms us.  Forest quotes Mother Maria, who worked on behalf of the Jewish people and gave her life for a Jewish prisoner in the gas chamber,

“There is one moment when you start burning with love, and you have the inner desire to throw yourself at the feet of some other human being. This one moment is enough.  Immediately you know that instead of losing your life, it is being given back to you twofold” (Ladder 72).

Like Jesus, who came as servant to all, we must spend our lives in service; living the Sermon on the Mount so that we can impact the community and the world.

Screen Shot 2023-11-19 at 2.37.19 PMA Transformed Community

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in constant community as the Trinity, and they replicated this model at creation. The Sermon on the Mount is the Jesus Way to reestablish relationships and community. “Christ taught that human beings are God’s children and that to live in peace with each other as God’s children is to live in the kingdom of God” (Ladder, 130). Forest suggests examining the connections we have in our lives - our food comes from farmers, our clothes from factories on the other side of the globe, and so on – to realize the infinite connectedness of our lives, both to the past, present and future (Ladder 44-45).

If we followed Jesus’s program for social renewal, we could protect and restore our relationships. Jesus instructs us to make peace with others before taking the Eucharist rather than hold onto anger; to not commit adultery, even with our thoughts; to love and forgive our enemies; feed the hungry; give to the needy in secret; act generously; judge no one and practice the golden rule. Loving enemies in particular, demonstrates ‘taking up your cross’ as the human inclination to retaliate when attacked or persecuted is strong.  However, like Jesus on the cross, we must react with mercy and love. These actions will transform the world around us and bring the Kingdom of God on earth, as we ask to do in the Lord’s Prayer.

Forest provides several examples of Christians being salt and light by caring for the needy, extending mercy to enemies, forgiving others, and reacting with nonviolence in the face of death. Dorothy Day founded the CatholicWorker hospitality houses for the ‘down and out’ where “each person [was] received as Christ” (Loving, 83). Day lived the Sermon on the Mount in such an integrated way that “nothing one did was at odds with nurturing and saving lives” (Loving, 84).  Day died in 1980 and may be named a saint in the Catholic Church. Forest says,“Whether or not canonization ever occurs, countless people revere her memory and live more adventurous lives of faith because of the example she gave of overcoming enmity in a life of active love and hospitality” (Loving, 86).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for his hunger and thirst for righteousness, manifest in his nonviolent and merciful approach toward his enemies.  After leading a year-long bus boycott resulting in integration, he said,

We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in good conscience obey your unjust laws… and in winning our freedom, we will win you in the process” (Loving, 114).

Dr. King’s legacy extends to this day and his approach is often emulated.

Father Elias Chacour revitalized a divisive community with forgiveness, starting with his own congregation. One Sunday, he locked the church doors imploring the congregation to forgive each other for long-held hurts, in part he said, “If you will not forgive, then we stay locked in here.  If you want, you can kill each other.  In that case I’ll provide your funerals gratis” (Loving, 80). Eventually, a policeman asked for his brothers’ forgiveness, and a tidal wave of forgiveness began, pouring into the streets and into the community such that people knocked on doors to reconcile with each other. The community is thriving to this day.

André and Magda Trocmé assisted Jews in fleeing the Nazis during World War II, acting in nonviolence, risking persecution and death. At one point, the police detained André and tried to force him to agree to obey the law, which he refused to do, saying, “These people came here for help and shelter. I am their shepherd. A shepherd does not forsake his flock.  I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings” (Loving, 68). The Trocmés saved countless lives and continued peace work until their passing.

Forest ends his book with a story of a violent escaped convict, Riley Arzeneaux, who entered an older couple’s house, Nathan and Louise Degrafinried, threatening them with a gun (Loving, 170-1). Louise told Riley to lay down his gun because she did not believe in violence, and the couple proceeded to feed and clothe him and share the love of Christ. When the police arrived, Louise also told them to lay down their guns, and they complied. After Riley’s return to prison, he and Louise kept in touch. Riley became a Christian in prison, and at Louise’s funeral, he shared, “Mrs. Degrafinried was real Christianity,” and he acted as a pallbearer carrying her coffin to her final resting place.

Each of these stories exemplifies people who lived the Sermon on the Mount for the benefit of others, bringing the Kingdom of God to earth and allowing the people they helped to experience the love of Christ.

Conclusion

So what happens if we do not follow the Jesus Way? If we live our lives only concerned with our salvation because the Sermon on the Mount is a difficult and unrealistic journey? After all, not all of us are priests like Father Elias, or have war at our doorstep like the Trocmés, or lead social change like Dr. King.

What happens is that we exclude ourselves from the transforming work of Christ and from bringing his kingdom on earth. Our lives will not produce the fruit that enables us to make a difference in others’ lives. Jesus ends the Sermon on Mount with,

All who listen to my instructions and follow them are wise, like a man who builds his house on solid rock. Though the rains come in torrents, and the floods rise, and storm winds beat against his house, it won’t collapse, for it is built on rock. But those who hear my instructions and ignore them are foolish, like a man who builds his house on sand. For when the rains and floods come, and storm winds beat against his house, it will fall with a mighty crash (Matthew 24-27).

As challenging as following the Jesus Way may be, it will set our lives on a firm foundation. It will transform us and enable us to live Christ-like lives in service to others for the transformation of our communities and the world.


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