Violence: Then And Now

Friday in the Second Week of Easter (Acts 5:34-42; Psalm 27:1-9; John 6:1-15)

Earlier this week, in his thoughtful homily addressing the tragedy at Virginia Tech,
Jim Lemler pointed out that our Lord Jesus Christ was no stranger to violence. He was misunderstood, feared, despised, abused, tortured, and eventually executed by the state as an innocent victim of their version of capital punishment.

Even in today’s largely celebratory story of the feeding the multitude, the last line (which we sometimes miss) reads, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Even his own people, who wanted him to be their king, were prepared to use force against him!

But the violence didn’t stop with Jesus, even with his Resurrection. In the line which precedes our reading from Acts today and Gamaliel’s speech, the text says, “When they heard this (from the apostles) they were enraged and wanted to kill them.” And then the teacher Gamaliel proceeds to catalogue the violence perpetrated against some of Jesus’ predecessors in the prophetic tradition:

“Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men…joined him, but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed…After him Judas the Galilean rose up…and got people to follow him (but) he also perished. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone…”

So persuasive was Gamaliel that “they were convinced by him and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go.” So, even in gaining their freedom, these early Christians suffered violence – they were flogged first!

I don’t know if society is more violent today than it was in ancient times, or prior generations. Certainly the tools are more horrendous. A cat-o-nine-tails with pieces of lead embedded in the leather is a terrible thing. But a Glock 9mm handgun with 33 rounds in each clip is a weapon of mass destruction!  And we permit its legal sale!

The World Council of Churches is more than half way through something called a “Decade To Overcome Violence.” We have a long way to go before even making a dent in this massive problem. And the focus needs to include, not only war and global terrorism, but the rage that seethes in the human heart and how we can be instruments in the of healing – and prevention — of that rage.

May our continuing celebration of the Easter season inspire and strengthen us for this ministry. And may we be comforted by the words of the Psalmist that, no matter what may befall us (and we never know what will befall us!): In the day of trouble he shall keep us safe in his shelter; God shall hide us in the secrecy of his dwelling, and set us high upon a rock!      

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