Opening the Word: The outrage cycle

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The fuel of social media is the outrage cycle. A public or private figure is revealed to have committed a social transgression. Virtual mobs seek to destroy the life of this person. The accused receives death threats until the attention of the social media mob turns elsewhere.

Although the technology behind the outrage cycle is new, the impetus to both create and destroy enemies is as old as Adam and Eve. Having eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam takes no responsibility for his transgression. Instead, he directs his hostility against both God and Eve: “The woman whom you put here with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it” (Gn 3:12).

To both create and sustain enemies necessitates that we learn to delight in the hope of violence against our transgressor. The enemy, even if he or she is artificially constructed as our foe, must suffer wrath.

Sometimes, enemies really do seem to deserve to suffer at least some wrath. Saul is one such case. He is the king that has rejected the power of God, relying on his own strategic ingenuity. God has chosen a new king, the youthful shepherd David.

Saul knows it. He views David as a threat, once more rejecting the will of God.

And at last, David has an opportunity to end the life of his enemy. With but one thrust of a spear, Saul will be gone.

And yet, David does not kill Saul. He can’t. For in murdering Saul, David also would be rejecting God’s will. Saul is God’s anointed. David refuses to make Saul into his enemy.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Feb. 24, 2019
1 SM 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8,10, 12-13
1 COR 15:45-49
LK 6:27-38

Of course, David does make and have enemies throughout his kingship. In this, David is but a shadow of Jesus Christ, the one who comes to end our addiction to violence.

When Christ tells the gathered crowd in Luke to love the enemy, he is not offering some quaint piety. Instead, he speaks the very wisdom of God who responds to the violence of sin and death with love unto the end.

Christ has come to end the outrage cycle. And his teaching is not easy. Of course, it’s easier to love those who love you. Who has not delighted in the adoration of a child or friend? This is elementary love, the easiest gift to offer.

But the love of the Word made flesh is different. It is not a love that is needy, dependent on the worth of the recipient.

Christ’s love is offered foolishly to those who reject him. It is offered to the enemy, to those who want to crush God’s righteous servant.

In a fallen world, it’s the kind of love that is imprudent. The love of enemy makes one vulnerable to attacks, to rejection, even to death on a cross.

Christ is not offering pious advice to be enshrined on a meme. He is presenting to his disciples the way of salvation.

If we are to receive the infinite forgiveness of God, to become beloved children of so gracious a Father, then we must operate not according to an outrage cycle. We must not continue the cycle of violence that is the root of death.

Instead, we must learn to “bear the image of the heavenly one” (1 Cor 15:49).

That is, we can no longer respond to violence with violence. The only option for the Christian is love unto the end, even if it means death.

Mercy, as it turns out, is terribly beautiful.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.

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