Jesus Was Against Violence

My friend Ben Cook has written in one of his blog’s that “The United States of America has a leader who has as much sense as a small house brick”. How true is that. Ben also wrote in his blog that as he had read in the news that Bush and the UN are demanding that Iran back down over their Nuclear power reactors, because Bush is scared that they will build Nuclear weapons. The president of Iran has said back that he will only stop his nuclear power reactors if Bush stops Americas nuclear production! Fair play I say”!

How can we ask anyone to stop violence when we use violence ourselves. How can violence ever stop violence???

We live in a world that is so unjust and unfair, and the strong military powers just don’t seem to be able to see how stupid they are being. I have to admit I was totally opposed to the war in Iraq although I do have to confess that there were positives that came out of it, but we have to own up to the face that there has been lots of negatives too.

I struggle to see how any Christian can be pro war or pro violence in any shape or form. If we look at the facts Jesus’ wasn’t ever pro-war but yet Christians over the last 2000 years have taken upon then selves to kill people in the name of a peaceful God. Crazy or what?

In the beatitudes Jesus makes it very clear that the peacemakers are truly blessed (Matt 5). He tells Peter he was wrong for cutting of the off the high priests ear in Luke 22. Jesus was totally opposed to violence in any shape or form, time and time again in the Bible we see Jesus reclaiming peoples humanity by using non-violent means. This use of non-violence is called the ‘Third Way’.

Typically the world sees two distinct ways of dealing with conflict.

  1. Do nothing, sit back and let it happen. What can I do anyway, its too big for me to do anything, I have no power I will leave it to those who do. This is totally about submission, passivity, withdrawal and surrendering.

  2. Pick up a weapon and fight. This is about armed revolt, violent rebellion, direct retaliation and revenge.

Jesus’ Third Way is all about finding a creative alternative to violence. Its about asserting your own humanity and dignity as a person. Jesus’ Third Way is about meeting force and oppression with ridicule or humour, doing this shows the oppresser how stupid they are being. Its about refusing to submit to the inferior position and taking the power dynamic. Its about shaming the oppressor into repentance and dieing to the fear of the old order and its rules.

Lets look at a perfect example of this in the gospel of Matthew.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.(Matt 5:38-41)

Lets break this down line by line….

But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.” A better translation of the Greek here would be ‘Do no retaliate against violence with violence’. Jesus knew that if we retaliated with violence it only causes the oppressor to come back to you with more violence, and then you back to him. Jesus is saying let the violence stop here, this is enough. This is typically known as ‘Jesus’ value of militant non-violence’.

Whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well”. Why the right cheek? We have two hands, in our culture both are used in equal measure, but in Jesus’ time this was not so. You would eat and do clean things with your right hand, and you would wipe your bottom with your left hand, which made it unclean. You would shake hands only with your right, you would slap someone only with your right but you would wipe with the left. Typically you would slap with the back of your hand, this was always intended as an insult. A fistfight was a fight of equals, but a slap was a way of putting someone in their place. Down with you slave. Roman saying Jew were worthless. Master showing ownership over the Slave. Husband putting down his wife and Parent showing authority over the child.

The intention of the right hand slap was not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place. This was about humiliation and robbing someone of their humanity. You are inferior to me.

So when Jesus says turn the other cheek this is a response to the humiliation. For the oppressor to hit you on the other cheek they would be unable to do it with the back of their right hand. The only way of hitting the left cheek is to do it with a fist.

If you are going to hit me, do it as a equal.’

This robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate.

The person being hit Is effectively saying…

Try again, your first shot failed to achieve its desired affect I am still equal to you. Bring It on.’

The powerful person has now been stripped of all this power and is now an equal. The next example Jesus gives is in a court of law.

if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat” It says in Deut 24:10-13 and 17 that if you lend someone money, but they are too poor to pay you back then you are allowed to take their coat as a payment until they can give you it back. Only the really poor would have nothing but a outer coat to give as payment but Jewish law made it clear that it could only be taken if it was to be retuned to the man in evening at sunset, for that was all the poor man had to sleep in.

Jesus says if you find yourself in this situation that you are being sued for your outer garment then take both your outer and inner garment and give it to the man. The poor man would now be naked. It has to be noted that pants weren’t worn in those days, its just too hot.

So why would Jesus suggest walking out of the court naked? We need to put ourselves in the debtor’s place, this poor man has no hope to win the case as he has noting left anyway and the law was on the oppressors side.

Nakedness was a real taboo in Judaism and shame fell not on the naked person but on those whom saw the naked man (Gen 9:20-17). By stripping you have brought the creditor under the same prohibition that led to the curse of Canaan.

Jesus says ‘you show them how ridicules they are being by taking your clothing, are they had evil that they will leave you with nothing. Shame on you, how can you leave a human in this state’. Jesus says make them the undignified one for being so absurd.

Jesus third example is the one about being forced to go one mile but being willing to walk two.

It is well know that Roman centurions were allowed to ask the Jewish people to walk with their heavy bags one mile. Although it was ruled by Caesar that to ask someone to walk more than this was cruel and the Roman would be docked pay or even told to step down from his work. Mile markers were all over the area so that the Romans and Jews knew how far they had walked. Jesus says if you are being forced to carry the Romans heavy bags, then walk further. Suddenly the Jew is now in control, he has the power and the Roman is running behind saying please, please, put down my bag. Jesus has reversed the power and now the slave is the powerful. It would have been so easy for the Jewish people to pop out a knife and stab the Roman and this was known to happen often. But Jesus’ militant non-violence says keep going, you regain power from the Roman, you be the one in charge of the situation.

You have taken back the power of choice and the soldier is thrown off balance, ‘please please give me it back!?!?’

Jesus values of non-violence are only God inspired and aren’t the natural vales that we tend to live by. But we need to start finding new ways for living the ‘Third Way’. The way of peace. Jesus was opposed to dealing with things the violent way and ironically this was one of the things that lead him to a violent death. But even that flipped the tables and the egg was on the face of the oppressor.

We need to be creative in dealing with oppressive powers in the world, showing them how stupid they are looking.


Herodium

How would you say you live your life? With faith that God is powerful? Are you truly sure of his real power?

Do you live as if our Creator is still is in the gig of being awesome. Or live life hoping to see him do something someday which is Awesome?

Still Awesome or was Awesome?

To stand in the actual place where Jesus spoke his teaching and words to the Disciples brings to life his words in a way which almost makes them jump right off the page. Understanding of that location and its culture is key to interpreting the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus’ Greek name) and a milestone in our reading of scripture.

In Matt 25 we find Jesus with his disciples making their way back to Jerusalem from his night B&B at Bethany. Bethany was placed on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives just outside the holy city. This location is key to decoding what the Rabbi means when he says to his followers…

I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Matt 21:21).

Jerusalem and its surrounding area are well know for its mountainous wilderness scenes which makes Jesus’ illustration of great faith a powerfully strong one. However, there is a specific location that I believe Jesus was referring to and which reveals how loaded Jesus’ teaching was.

Let me explain what was going at the time of Matt 25.

Herod the Great was a fearless king who would do anything to keep his power over his whole Kingdom. He was powerful and evil and before being King was a violent military leader well known for murdering those in his way. He killed his wives and children simply because he was paranoid that they were trying to knock him off for his cash. Herod taxed the Jewish people alongside the Roman Empire until it reduced people to poverty purely so that he could build his kingdom. He built amphitheatres, theatres, racecourses, seaports (in the sea), sewage systems and water systems. He built with massive stones that even still today we don’t know how he lifted or moved them. He was an oppressor who did things simply so that he could impress the world. Some historians believe he probably was one of the richest men in the world ‘ever’.

Herod had around 500,000 people on his pay roll; he built huge structures in places where it was impossible to build. On one occasion Herod chose a location to build a fortress/Palace but it wasn’t mountain shaped enough. So he had his own mountain shipped in (Don’t ask me where he found a unused mount). On this he created a Palace, which he cleverly called ‘Herodium’ or ‘Herodion’.

As Jesus looked out from the south side of the City of Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea, he would have clearly seen Herod’s Herodium with its swimming pools, huge meeting rooms and dining rooms. All this had been built with the money from the Jewish taxpayers.

So when Jesus turns to the Disciples, he is speaking of a specific mountain, a man-made mountain; a mountain, which represents misused power, misused money and a yearning for the lifestyle of opulence. To a Jewish ear, when he refers to the image of the sea, this would represent the abyss, or, as we would say, hell.

Jesus is clearly telling his disciples, “Hey guys, do you realise that with my power and my strength, you will be able to tell the mighty powers of this world to drop dead?” and “Guys you have the power in me to bring down the evil of this world and throw it into the pits of Hell.”

As you stand and look out over your town or city what is your Herodium, the palaces of power that oppress and enslave those around, pause, and think about this for a moment.

Our God is the God who brings down human powers, human oppressors, human dictators and time has shown that it only takes the faith of one person to turn things around.

Question the structures of Evil around you, because Rabbi Yeshua says to you,

If you have faith, not only can you do little things in my name, but you can say to these structures of oppression, ‘Go, throw yourself into Hell’.”

We need to start to realise that people like Herod don’t have the last word but God does! God is the power!


SITTING SHIVAH

Jews had something, they really did, and I’m not sure what happened. Why did their traditions get lost in the move from their being no messiah to their being a messiah?

All around me I see people everyday that are going through the process of grieving a lost family member. People die around us all the time and people have to get over it, but it seams to me that we just don’t do it very well in our culture. Either people hide away and don’t engage with it or try and avoid the having to move through the pain trying of avoid the full weight of our loss. Also the number of people who just can’t let go and try things like trying to contact the dead in the hope of being able to contact their loved one.

The Jews really did have something; this thing I am speaking of is called ‘Sitting Shiv’ah’ which literally means ‘seven’.

Shiv’ah is the name of the Jews seven day long period of mourning a dead loved one.

Immediately after the burial of the dead person (which would happen right after their death due to the heat), the close relatives become ‘avel’ or in English a mourner. This lasts for the seven days after the burial and which the family gather together in one house and receive visitors together.

It is thought by Jews to be an amazing ‘mitzvah’ (an act of rebuilding a broken world) to visit the mourners. The visitor would arrive at the home with no greeting not even a hello would be given by either side. The visitor would just sit in the corner of the room and wait until the person was ready to speak. Just sitting there would indicate your support by just being in the room and having to do anything but just allow the full weight of the persons loss.

A biblical example of Shiv’ah is found in Job 2:11-13

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him (his family had died), they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was”.

They sat for 7 days and no one said a word, they just sat Shiv’ah.

When the visitor has finally the permission to speak they would often just simply say,

Ha-makom yenachem et’chem b’toch she’ar avelei Tzion vi’Yerushlayim”,

Which literally means…

May the omnipresent comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.

Once this has been said and only if it was appropriate the visitor would talk about the dead person, sharing stories about them.

This is called ‘Sitting Shiv’ah’

Sitting Shiv’ah’ is not meant to distract the mourner from their loss, but rather to let them experience their grief together with friends and family.

At the funeral, the Jewish mourners would traditionally tear their outer garment (keriah), which is not mended for the duration of the Shiv’ah week. Tearing the garment is about saying ‘this just is not fair, why did God allow this to happen?’

When the week is up, the time of Shiv’ah is over and it is time to worship and move on with life. It’s time to remember what they do have, and not what they don’t have.

It seams to me that God is always sitting Shiv’ah in all the crap we have in life. Its not just about mourning the dead but also about when we fight and fallout with people, when we are angry or even when we are lonely.

When people say where is your God now? And, ‘How can you believe in God when things like this happen?’ The truth is he is there Sitting Shiv’ah all the time and saying,

I the omnipresent God is here comforting you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.

God is there as a real presence.

Next time you sit in silence mourning, lonely or lost. Recognise that there is a God who is sitting in the room waiting to talk, waiting to share stories, waiting to bless you. And that he wants you to understand the full loss within this fragmented broken world, so that you may know how awesome his blessing is of piecing back together our fragmented broken hearts.

Categories


Archives