Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Christ Our Hope: Part 4 - Witness of Christ continued

This is Part 3 of a series entitled Christ our Hope in the Face of Violence and our Witness to Nonviolent Love. Part 1 served as an introduction and Part 2 considered God as a God of Peace in the Old Testament. Part 3 began to consider what Christ has to say on the issue of violence and war. We shall not continued those considerations.

Jesus’ Statements Which Seem to Support Violent Warfare

First let us consider the expulsion of the money changers from the Temple court, one of the pericopes sometimes cited by amateur theologians as evidence of Jesus' occasional use, or at least tolerance, of violence. Some claim this as an example of Jesus’ use of violent physical coercion to cleanse the temple, and conclude that if Jesus used “righteous” violence, then we certainly we can and should. However the use of the whip is mentioned only in John’s Gospel,1 and the Evangelist never says he used it on people. He merely says that Jesus made a whip out of cords and that he drove them, the moneychangers and animals, out of the temple area. The Gospel does not actually say that Jesus used violence on anyone. Furthermore, the Greek verb which is translated as “drove out” literally means “to cast out.” This same verb is used in many different, nonviolent, contexts: to speak of Jesus being sent into the wilderness by the Spirit,2 to speak of God sending his workers into the vineyard,3and to speak of a shepherd sending his sheep into the fold.4 Thus, it does not seem to have violent implications, but rather to imply an “authoritative dismissal.”5 This seems to necessarily be the case when we consider that it is impossible for a single man to drive out an entire crowd by threat of violence with merely a whip. Jesus must have awed the crowd by the presence and authority of his personality, expelling them by command rather than by violence.6

Second we shall consider the Lucan account, shortly before the Last Supper in which Jesus recommends that his apostles sell their cloak to purchase a sword if they do not already have one. The apostles respond that among them, they have two swords. Jesus replies abruptly: “It is enough!”7 While, if interpreted literally, this could be used to support a claim that Jesus was encouraging his disciples to have weapons handy for self-defense, the fact that the two swords were not sufficient to defend the apostles from the guards seems to disprove the notion that the two swords were enough. Furthermore, if Jesus was speaking literally why would he have shortly thereafter chastised Peter for using his sword? It seems unlikely that Jesus was speaking literally here, rendering the pericope unacceptable as an argument for Jesus’ approval of violence.

Many however, simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings against violence as being irrelevant or unrealistic. Loisy, for example, reasons “A country where all the good people conformed to these maxims would, instead of resembling the kingdom of heaven, be the paradise of thieves and criminals.”8 [This is the same reasoning often used to argue for the right to bear arms.] However popular this line of reasoning may be, these arguments seem to miss the point entirely and wind up expressing their faith and hope in human means of governing civilization, which history shows are doomed to corruption and failure, rather than in the teachings of Christ, the eternal Logos.

Furthermore those who argue against the plausibility and efficacy of living by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount neglect three important points: (1) Jesus directs these teachings not too humanity at large, but to those who are listening to him, namely his disciples. The closer one is in relation to Christ the more willing and able to one will be (or at least should be) to lovingly live out Jesus’ call to nonviolent resistance. (2) The success which the early Christians achieved in living out Jesus’ “third way” in a radical way surpasses the success of violent coercion in the effort curb human injustice and sinfulness. (3) The Christian community, the Kingdom of God, is to grow gradually and mysteriously, like seed planted in good soil,9 resulting in a gradual decrease of those who resort to violence to respond to evil. This decrease will occur simultaneously with a gradual decrease in those who seem to need be violently restrained.10 We shall return to the implications of these three points more fully later on, but for the moment we can suffice to say that Jesus’ life is a witness to the beauty and power of his message. Jesus Christ, the philosopher and the shepherd, the suffering servant and the king, calls all his disciples to love God, and in doing so, to love all those made in His image. Jesus shows us that love is a free gift of self, which is willing to accept self-sacrifice for the good of the other, even the enemy.

1 John 2:13-17.
2 Mark 1:12.
3 Matt 9:38.
4 John 10:4.
5 Cadoux, 42.
6 Ibid.
7 Luke 22: 36-38.
8 Quoted in Cadoux, 44.
9 Mark 4:1-9
10 Cadoux, 45.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading over this and the previous post, you do a good and genuine job of analyzing Jesus' pacifist examples. But you seem too quick to dismiss the potential violent acts. What do you suppose Jesus was doing with that whip or wanted to do with those swords? He must have been brandishing that whip for a reason. Either he was making a show of it and not hitting anyone with it, he only used the whip on the animals, he was threatening to use it (implicit or explicit), or he was actually using it on animals and people. And however he is using the whip, he is indisputably flipping over people's tables and stools. I am very quick to dismiss John simply for being John. But if you think what John has to write is worth examining, then I think it deserves better examining than what goes on here. Afterall, Jesus could have "authoritatively dismissed" the money changers after soundly beating them.

How, metaphorically, do think Jesus was speaking when he axed the apostles about the swords?