Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Jesus Commanded, Part 9: Peace and Violence

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

 Peace and Violence

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;” 
Matthew 5:39 (cf. Luke 6:29)

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:41-42

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:49-50

“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 25:52

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. Luke 9:51-56


These are more challenging commands of Jesus. And, again, it's not just Jesus; the rest of the New Testament reinforces the spirit of these commands: Romans 12:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Ephesians 2:17, 1 Peter 2:20-25, 1 Peter 3:9-12, Hebrews 12:14, James 3:18

Are we who call Jesus Lord prepared to do what Jesus tells us in these commands? Recognize the things that make for peace? Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? Do not resist an evildoer? But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also? 

Reminded of these commands of Jesus, a church member once told me straight up, "He was wrong." I wonder if many of us secretly agree. Or we are inclined to say, "I know that is what Jesus said, but . . ."

If we take the plain meaning of these commands of Jesus seriously should we all become Mennonites committed to nonviolence in all things? If not, why not? If we interpret these commands in light of other biblical texts to nuance them and take away their sting, why do we do that rather than interpreting those other texts in light of the commands of Jesus. Is he Lord or not? Or, a slightly different question: Why do we insist on taking the plain meaning of other things in the Bible seriously and insist they must be obeyed if we are prepared to find nuance and alternative ways of interpreting these words of Jesus? 

A simple reading of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament would suggest that Jesus reoriented the teaching of the Old Testament with regard to violence as much as he did the eating of bacon. That was the consensus understanding of the Church for the first 300 years or so. 

I am not a Mennonite, though there was a time when I seriously considered it. It might be that we can call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ and not always literally do what he tells us in the above commands. Maybe we do not have to be absolutely committed to nonviolence. But that is a case that needs to be made and there is no escaping that it must be made in spite of the clear teaching of Jesus. As a catholic-minded Christian, I concede that the Church has taught that there is such a thing as a Just War. But, I would say that few wars fit the Church's classic criteria for a Just War. I submit that we should be much more conservative in our application of those criteria. And more suspicious of calls to war and other uses of violence.

Calling Jesus 'Lord, Lord' and taking what he says here seriously does pose questions. Have we become too comfortable with the idea that violence is OK? How does it affect our willingness to support or participate in war and other violence? How does it affect our attitude to owning weapons whose main purpose is to hurt or kill other people – people created in God's image, people Jesus loves, people for whom Jesus died? How does it affect the kinds of things we watch or do for entertainment? How does it affect the way we think about, talk about, or talk to others; particularly those we consider enemies? There might not be one simple answer to those questions. But we can not seriously call Jesus Lord and not grapple with them more seriously than we often do.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." John 14:27

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