Today’s reflection is from Joshua Casteel. It was originally published in 2009 in our Lenten booklet, The City of God: Reflections for Lent 2009. Joshua enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves at age 17 and received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at 18; after training as an interrogator and studying Arabic, he served at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, from June 2004 to January 2005, as a member of the interrogation units sent to overhaul the prison after the prisoner abuse scandal. During his time at Abu Ghraib, he came to realize he was a conscientious objector and was honorably discharged from Active Duty as a CO. Joshua wrote and spoke on his experiences during war, served on the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and published Letters From Abu Ghraib in 2008. He died of cancer in 2012.
reflection for THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, FEB. 28, 2021
by Joshua Casteel
With God on our side who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)
Abraham’s radical faith earned his descendants “possession of the gates of their enemies” (Genesis 22:17). Yet St. Paul questions the very notion of enemies. “With God on our side who can be against us?” Abraham’s son was spared—God’s covenant of love and friendship with those who follow God’s ways. Christ, on the other hand, willingly endured death for all those who cried out “Crucify him!” Christ responded to this enmity with “Abba, forgive them, they know not what they do.” For all those at enmity with God, for us, Christ pleaded, “forgive them.” Christ became the One who follows God’s ways, the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. So Abraham’s blessing continues: “All the nations of the earth shall your descendants bless, as a reward for your obedience” (Genesis 22:18). There could be no greater blessing to the nations than for the descendants of Abraham to call no man or woman “enemy,” but to instead extend mercy to them.
So what does it mean to possess “the gates of their enemies”?
The painter William Holman Hunt is famous for his allegorical rendering of Revelation 3:20—Christ at the door of one’s heart—in his painting “The Light of the World”. Christ stands in regal apparel and a crown of thorns, holding a lantern outside a door long unopened, covered in overgrowth. The door has no outward doorknob—it can only be opened from within. It is dark. Christ stands with his lantern waiting for the one inside to respond to his knock, so that Christ might sup (a sign of kinship) with the one inside. Might we understand “possession of the gates of their enemies” as the very same appeal Christ makes to each human heart? Gates that are not closed are no gates at all. Perhaps “the gates of their enemies” is the entrance to enmity itself—opening those hearts that enmity has closed.
If our Kin-dom is in but not of this world, whom shall we fear? And if we have no reason to fear, what reason could we have to call any human “enemy”?