Monday, April 16, 2012

Was Jesus a Pacifist? : Chasing Francis Series

In Chasing Francis, a Rwandan nun lectures a confused pastor about what it means to be a peacemaker. She insists that a peacekeeper is not the same thing as a peacemaker.

A peacekeeper, she says, avoids intervening in things that upset others. He accepts things as he finds them. He doesn’t say or do anything that might challenge his world because he longs above all for a type of ‘peace’ called security. This ‘peace’ leaves him spiritually undeveloped. It may even lead him to become evil if security requires him to turn a blind eye to injustice.

A peacemaker, in contrast, works to bring God’s shalom into his world. Ultimate shalom is a whole person flourishing within a whole society through a living relationship with a holy God. Because we live in a fallen word, we will not fully experience that state until the Prince of Shalom comes to establish it. Until then, the people of God work to bring about states of relative justice and righteousness in a world that is controlled by forces that resist shalom. Because this work challenges the status quo of the societies in which they live, peacemakers often experience pressure, persecution, and even martyrdom.

For all these reasons, a peacemaker may suffer, not in spite of, but because he is a disciple of Jesus.

What the peacemaker must not do is use violence in the name of Christ, even in order to create a good society. The popular way of expressing this truth is “the ends do not justify the means.” The reason this statement is true is because the means we employ always shapes the end we achieve. As the New Testament puts it, “the wrath of men does not work the righteousness of God.”

When a Christian uses violence in order to achieve “righteous” aims, he opens himself to the forces of darkness. This happened in the crusades. It happened in the subjugation of the Incas and Aztecs. It happened under apartheid in South Africa. It happened through the many European persecutions of Jews by Roman Catholics and Protestants. It happened when Americans enslaved Africans. It happened during the near genocide of native peoples on this continent.

In all these cases, Christians justified the use of violence because they claimed they were establishing Christian societies. In retrospect, we understand that these moments were incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Then again, evil is always easier to identify by those standing outside of the societies gripped by it. It is much harder to spot when we are inside such societies.

Evil is especially successful at covering its tracks from those who seem to benefit from its work. Most of the time, the ones who first become aware of evil within their society are those who immediately suffer because of it.  However, their reactions to evil may contribute to its power. Evil actions encourage evil reactions. Those reactions often provoke yet new reactions.

Jesus calls us to destroy this cycle by warning us against resisting evil. He knew that a resistance to evil easily becomes another form of evil.

Therefore, when a Christian advocates the use of force to bring about a righteous end, he must utterly ignore The Sermon on the Mount. He replaces obeying Jesus with praising Jesus. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

The main place Christians face this temptation is not at the national or global level. We can easily voice our passionate opinions about the people and issues at those levels because they are too far away for our opinions to make any practical difference. No, it is nearly always in our everyday lives where our choices to speak or to act make real differences and invite real consequences. It is in our families, communities, and churches where we are called upon to become peacemakers. It is in our everyday world that we lovingly speak and act the truth, without coercion; without threats. 

We are often tempted to use some form of power to maintain our security instead of speaking or acting against injustice. Manipulation,gossip, withholding good from someone, raising an eyebrow, and sighing are ways of communication that allow us to cover our tracks. They are forms of falsehood and are, therefore, often evil. They seem small but they result in violence.

Jesus calls us instead to openly speak the truth, as we understand it. We must give people an opportunity to consider our words; so that those who hear us can make a decision free of coercion. They may reject our words. They may even become our enemies. Even so, we must speak without malice. We must act without coercion. We must speak and act whatever the cost because we are Kingdom people.

Sometimes, a type of limited force must be used to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Whenever possible, an officer of the law should do this. He or she is appointed by the state and, according to the scripture, by God Himself. Private citizens, however, should not, unless protecting the lives of those for whom they have responsibility. Private Christian citizens therefore do not need bazookas and Uzis. The desire to own such weapons is connected to our culture’s preoccupation with violence. It is difficult to understand why a follower of Jesus would have the slightest desire to associate with such destructive force, created as it was for the express purpose of maiming and killing other human beings.

We live in a fallen world. A Christian who speaks about justice and righteousness and who attempts to live out what he believes may suffer from the hands of violent people. And make no mistake; guns are not the only means of acting violently. A viral email can do extreme damage to a person’s reputation or dignity. Indeed, the victim of such an email might well prefer that the writer simply shoot him instead. Old fashioned person-to-person gossip falls in the same category. We have little control over such reactions. When one speaks truth, however kindly and wisely, he may suffer for it. However, if he is a Christian, he must not retaliate.

That is apparently what the Lord asks of us. But is it humanly possible? And if it it is not, do we dare edit Jesus’ words or simply ignore them so that we can keep up the appearances of a culturally acceptable religion we call Christianity? Just because we call it Christianity, will it really be Christian?

The tile of my blog asks whether Jesus was a pacifist. I do not know the answer.

Jesus said that he had not come to bring peace to the earth but rather a sword. He said he would turn father against child and daughter against mother. So what are we to think? Does a pacifist claim to bring a sword to the earth?

When we fail to speak and act, are we participating in the "peace" Jesus said he did not come to bring? On the other hand, he did say once he would give us peace, but not as the world gives. So are there different kinds of peace?

Does Jesus not intend to contrast the sort of “peace” that comes through our collusion with the status quo with His Shalom, which comes only through trusting in His ways of God and living accordingly? 

None of us want to be cast out, despised, or ridiculed. We prefer to be powerful, wealthy and honored. Sometimes faithful believers get to be all of that. Usually, however, they don’t. Whether they do or not, they are always obligated to do all they can to speak and live the truth in order to spread God’s shalom. They must do this whatever the cost.

In Chasing Francis, the cost seemed to be astronomically high to the struggling pastor. It threatened the loss of his friends, reputation and financial security. But the cost of a soul, which the Lord once insisted was worth more than the entire world, cannot be measured. That was what was really at stake for this pastor, and for all of us. Will we trade our soul for security, or for human favor, or will will risk all to bring our soul and the parts of the world influenced by our soul, into harmony with God?  

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God,” Jesus said.

Perhaps these are the words of an idealistic prophet, a man we love but do not intend to follow. Then again, they may be the preamble of a constitution meant to govern the heavens and the earth.

1 comment:

Phillip Michael Garner said...

Hi Pastor, some thoughts to contribute to your own.

Reading this piece of Matthew’s gospel is often disconcerting for the person always seeking words from Jesus that are healing or compassionate.
34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mat 10:34 RSV)
Further, these words can be misused to suggest that Jesus is promoting violence. Such a reading is void of context, imagination and completely incompatible with the revelation of God in Jesus.
Within the context of speeches that comprise chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel these sayings and instructions of Jesus refer to the rejection of the gospel message and the eventual martyrdom of the apostles.
In the book of Matthew the word peace is only used four times and the four uses are found in two verses of chapter ten. In verse thirteen the word peace is understood as the peace possessed by the disciples, a peace which is not determined by whether people accept or reject the gospel. The disciples can share this peace with worthy people that treat them as emissaries of God and receive the good news.
In verse thirty four peace is now understood to be absent due to conflict over the gospel message. The sword referenced in verse 34 is a metaphor for the word. The flaming sword of Eden represents the word, the violation of the prohibition resulted in the presence of this flaming sword, a sword that kept humanity from living in the sanctuary of God. So, the writer of Hebrews likewise uses the imagery of the sword to represent the word. These words of Jesus explicitly teach that he gives a peace to those that are his and that this peace cannot be lost simply because others reject his word. The sword is not the soldier’s weapon of violence it is the word that gives access to the sanctuary of God. In this case the sanctuary or temple of God is the Lord himself. He is the word that tabernacles with humanity, he is the access to a peace that requires his disciples to love those that reject them. The part about shaking off dust from their sandals or feet suggests the kind of warning that Matthew wants those that reject the good news to consider.
Given the heart and other stories of Jesus, it is reasonable to hear these words of Jesus in Matthew to be delivered with a sense of sorrow, not anger, or joy.
Jesus is acknowledging that there will be sharp division in the Jewish family over his message and identity. This sharp division does not justify Christian families to part over disputes about petty doctrinal ideas. Nor do these words of Jesus desire that the absence of peace be an excuse for justifying rejection of family members. We must remember that the disciples are to keep their peace, a peace which can be transferred by fellowship in the spirit. The disciples and the readers of Matthew are still subject to the commandments to honor father and mother, they are still subject to the Sermon on the Mount from chapter five which called upon them to love their enemies and pray for those that persecute them.
Jesus Kingdom is not won with swords for killing; however the word is likened to a sword in Ephesians. It is a sword that opens the calloused and the soft heart to the world of the spirit. The violent rejection and betrayal of family members is an act committed by those that reject the good news.
The particularity and exclusiveness of the gospel message is a divisive line for people that have no tolerance for others. However, we as believers must possess both tolerance and ongoing love for those that have different beliefs. We are never justified to respond to the beliefs of others with hate or see to their persecution.
If violence is inherent to the being of God then there is no hope for a world without violence. However, God is opposed to violence in all forms and his willingness to die at the hands of violent men and forgive his torturers reveals the martyrdom of a pacifist.