“Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (Genesis 50:17)
When many of us hear the Wesleyan injunction to “first, do no harm,” our minds naturally go to those experiences where harm has been done to us, or those times when we did some harm to someone else. Our thoughts turn to harmful or hurtful acts. Most of us can make a fairly long list of those things we believe do harm, yet sometimes we exempt retribution for wrongs or punishments for bad behavior from the list. We often think this is what is meant by justice – an Old Testament holdover morality that says, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” and in significant cases “a life for a life.”
There is a larger vision and concept for “do no harm” that comes to us from the Sanskrit – ahiMsA. AhiMsA is a rich word with multiple related meanings – harmlessness, non-injury, non-violence, safety, security, and non-killing, even in situations where violence first occurs. It calls to mind that the more ancient version of our Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – was cast in a negation – do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” This ancient and universal wisdom reminds us that the solution to our problems is never violence.
We live in a world where war is waged to make peace, where police officers use homicidal violence to subdue citizens, where hateful and harmful rhetoric is used to destroy reputations and injure opponents. This is the world’s way, not God’s way. Until it is in our hearts, to the core of our spirit, deep in our soul to “do no harm,” we will never fully understand unmerited grace and undeserved forgiveness. Our future peace, thriving, and survival depends on our ability to learn in every possible way to “do no harm,” and the only way this will ever happen is by God’s grace.
Prayer: Cast your vision before us, O Lord, let us see as you see. Shine the light of full disclosure on the many ways we harbor hurt and the desire for retribution in our hearts. Heal us. So fill us with desire to do good to all, that we no longer have the capacity to do harm to anyone. Transform us by your love and grace, we pray. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).