2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62 [1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 6]
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, Our Creator and Redeemer
It seems to me we live in a very violent world and we have an enormous capacity and willingness to justify it and even see it as normal.
The story we heard today from Luke h as given me the opportunity to reflect more widely on violence and Jesus’ own response to violence, given his Gospel is about love.
The story starts with Jesus beginning his final journey to Jerusalem. He has ‘set his face’ toward that destination. As he heads in that direction, he sends some of his followers ahead of him to the next Samaritan village to let them know he was coming. On finding out that he was heading for Jerusalem, the villagers refuse to welcome him and send him on his way.
Samaritans and Jews had different temple centres, and the dispute over this issue went back generations. James and John are outraged at the perceived rudeness, the village’s rejection and discourtesy, even though this was a very old dispute between the two peoples. James and John asked Jesus if they could command fire to come down from heaven and consume the village. They are evoking images of Elijah, the great prophet and a connection with Jesus’ own purposes.
Theirs is a self righteous anger as they defend old wrongs.
Jesus turns and rebukes them and just keeps going.
As I read this story, I reflected on what it is that defines us even today as a society that is comfortable and accepting of actual violence as the news is constantly filled with stories of hate, violence and death.
At the start of the 21st century, society seems to be locked in the grip of violence. It is exploited in the media and the entertainment industry. Violence sells. It sells products, fantasies, we are both appalled and fascinated by images of violence. Violence is seductive, used by politicians to advocate defence.
Violence is an epidemic in our homes, against our partners and our children. We seek guns to protect ourselves. We put up walls to exclude people and kill them if they try to get in. We want our police to carry weapons. We want more prisons and punishments. We instruct our children how to defend themselves with violence in their playgrounds and violence is generational.
We demand punishment beyond what is fair and just; we want at least an eye for an eye, and frequently want more.
We believe in redemptive violence, which is deeply ingrained in our thinking, where people unquestioningly affirm that sometimes violence is necessary to correct matters that have gone astray and such violence is good for peoples who have offended us. We see this in our response to the twin tower bombings, as we invaded Iraq which was not responsible, killing over 500,000 civilians, tipping neighbouring countries into civil war.
We have an appetite as Christians for the death penalty; and we are exquisitely skilled at scapegoating as we look at the way we treat our asylum seekers and refugees, to the extent we willing break the conventions and treaties we have signed for our greater good.
We have lengthy legal advice to enable just wars to be fought in defence of our ‘vital interests’, providing a rationale for armed intervention anywhere in the world. We support a flourishing weapons industry and spend billions and billions of dollars in defence and offensive violence rather than on people’s lives.
The torture of religious dissidents is presented as ‘defence of the faith’; the torture and killing of political dissidents is called an unfortunate necessity to preserve public order and the stability of the regime or government.
The examples we see today are full of murder, robberies, assaults, kidnappings and family violence. I also see it in how we behave on the roads, in our conversations that are rude, discourteous and judgemental about others, in the words we use and the stories we tell, the gossiping and hurtful comments we make, how we behave with people we find difficult or don’t like; and, as someone said to me this week, not realising our politics often defines our theology rather than the other way round.
Whichever way you look at it, when violence is finally unveiled, it is revealed for what it really is. Doing harm to other human beings in whatever shape or form, is still violence.
In the Galatians reading today, we are reminded of how violence is also manifested through greed, prejudice, self-interest, lust, anger, laziness, jealousy, and envy. It is evident in the way we staunchly defend our consuming habits and desires at the cost of everyone else.
Yet we must not be slaves to our impulses. We must instead try to follow the Jesus’ lead in every part of our lives.
So what has just happened in this small story?
The non-violent Christ has stepped into our vision and asks for us to SEE him and what he is saying to us about our behaviour.
From the Sermon on the Mount and all the examples Jesus gives us, we are taught how to ‘live love’, be active with compassion and also about enemy-love.
The non-violent Christ teaches ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). To be prepared to die for one’s friends, yes, but not to be prepared to kill. If we are provoked, and if we do succumb, the appropriate response is to be sorry, repent and own up to our failing.
Jesus’ ethic is clear: we choose to suffer the violence rather than inflict it. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem because of that commitment. He loved more than he hated, so much so he was prepared to die for us to give us the message of hope through his resurrection.
As Christians we are called to imitate him.
From Christ we also learn courage in the face of danger, we do NOT learn weakness, timidity, sitting back and letting them beat us, turning away while others suffer. Christ would have us intervene, as non-violently as possible. We intervene out of love, first for the victim and then also out of love for the perpetrator.
We have all heard the readings in Matthew 6:38 and 6:43, ‘if anyone strikes you, turn the other cheek, if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give them your cloak as well, and if you are forced to carry a burden for a mile, go an extra mile. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. If you love only your family and friends you are no different to anyone else’. These are strong messages for us to hear and practice
Jesus’ rebuke to John and James when they want to call down death is remarkable in the circumstances. Yet Jesus’ willingness to keep going towards his violent murder in Jerusalem out of love is life-changing.
And Jesus’ next few statements are equally confronting abut those thinking about following him. There is no rest, or shelter, there is no time for the clutter with which we fill our lives. There is no-one else but Jesus as the way to God. The simple unequivocal invitation to all of us is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and that means being non-violent.
It is radical to be told that ‘nesting comfortably in the good life of the Kingdom of God’ in our parish is not what this is about. It is confronting to be told the virtues of family loyalty are trumped by the extraordinary demands of discipleship.
Jesus is not trying to drive away followers with his uncompromising words, but he is being clear about the path and the kingdom work.
We are not able to continue as we are as a society and as Christians, engaging in and accepting our culture of violence. As a consequence, discipleship is costly and uncomfortable because it is so different to what is happening all around us.
And, there can be no delays, no distractions and no turning back.
And, never doubt, Jesus is walking beside us every step of the way.
The Lord be with you.