Year C; Lent 2; 3.17.2019
“Everyone deserves to live and pray in safety and peace.”
This is the slogan that the American Friends Service Organization, the Quakers, posted on their website Friday. It followed with, “We mourn with Muslim communities and we will work together to end white Supremacy.”
Here we are again, making our lamentation together in observance of yet another violent attack on innocent people, praying in what they thought was, “safety and peace” in one of the most peaceful countries in the world, New Zealand. This time two mosques were the target. Men, women and children were gunned down; 50 dead, over 50 injured. One hundred families wrecked in one violent instant. Stories of heroism and sacrifice are begin told. The outpouring of sorrow is coming from people of all faiths who are praying in grief with Muslim friends.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR, the “come-as-you-are” Jewish community in Los Angeles, condemned the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand with these words, “Among the great shames of our age is that we have come to assume that gun violence can strike us or our loved ones anywhere – in the office, on the street, in a movie theater, in school. Even still, there is a special kind of horror knowing that sacred spaces, too, can be the sites of such carnage. No person should ever feel unsafe walking into a mosque, church, synagogue, temple. I ask God to give us all strength…And I ask us to see: raw hatred combined with the proliferation of deadly weapons will continue to unleash unthinkable human misery. God can weep with us, but only we-through acts of love and courage – can stop this madness.”
I do believe she’s right, “through acts of love and courage” we can stop this madness. The only difficulty is that acts of love and courage are an uphill battle. Even for the well-meaning, in a climate of hate and bullying and cowardice, it takes a community of courageous and faithful lovers of God and neighbor – not sentimental “lovers”- sacrificial lovers, sacrificial lovers of God and neighbor to stand against true evil, true violence and falsehood.
The truth is that God loved the world so absolutely, that, for Christians, his beloved Son’s sacrifice is the direct action of that love. Jesus was a sacrificial lover of God and neighbor. He was clear about this mission. He didn’t shrink from it. But he didn’t exactly want it either. No human embraces threat of life without fear. And in today’s gospel, Jesus was handed a warning of a threat – that Herod was going to kill him.
This time it wasn’t Peter who told him not to go ahead with the journey to Jerusalem. It was the Pharisees. The opening sentence of today’s passage reads, “Some Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Flee! Run! Get to a safe place! Save your life. Everybody knows Herod beheaded John the Baptist. Herod proudly admitted it.
I would say that the Pharisees were giving Jesus good advice. This kind of running away is not cowardice. No one can argue that fleeing from danger is a sign of weakness. Remember one of the most famous chase scenes in Scripture: Elijah fled Jezebel’s priests and hid in a cave. The majority of the apostles never attended the death of Jesus on the cross as they ran and dispersed, fearing for their lives.
But Jesus was clear in his response to the Pharisees. He had more demons to smite, more people to cure, and more truth to preach. It was time he made his way to Jerusalem, knowing full well that it meant death for him. He knew he COULDN’T run away from it. He was not able to flee from this fate.
In saying the ironical words, “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem,” Jesus revealed that he was tuned in with the struggle of the prophets who had gone before him. Prophets are the truth-tellers. They speak the truth of God, from God’s mouth to the ear of the powerful. Prophets didn’t always fare too well in the power centers of the Ancient Near East.
My favorite bible scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes this pointed statement in his commentary, “Theology of the Old Testament.”
“The power structure of [ancient] Israel was able…to silence the prophets and to prevent serious impact from ‘the word’ [of God]. The personal fate of the prophets was perhaps not unlike the characteristic experience of poets who are silenced by totalitarian regimes, for no totalitarian regime can tolerate the generative, subversive, counter word of the poet.”
There are no more poetic words than Jesus speaking in loving terms of Jerusalem as a brood of beloved, recalcitrant chicks rejecting his kind of mother love, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
But their rejection didn’t stop Jesus. He proceeded to Jerusalem with love for them and hope for God’s kingdom. That same love and hope has the potential to dwell with his followers, for love and hope give us courage to overcome evil.
A resource that was posted with the Quaker American Friends Service Committee gave me a teensy bit of courage after I read and studied it. It is called “Bystander Intervention: Dos and Don’ts.” It is love in action if we should “…witness a public instance of racist, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Trans, or any other form of oppressive interpersonal violence and harassment while [also] considering the safety of everyone involved…”
Do make your presence as a witness known. Make eye contact with the person being harassed and ask them if they want support. If you can and it’s safe, make yourself near the person being harassed.
Do take cues from the individual being harassed. If the person is ok resisting in their own way, honor that. Or you could say, “Would you like to walk with me over here?…”
Do keep both of you safe. Assess your surroundings. Are there others who are offering support? Can you work as a team? Can you move to a safer place?
Don’t call the police. In some places, this escalates the situation and increases the threat.
Don’t escalate the situation. The goal is not to win a battle or incite further violence from the attacker. The goal is to get to a safer place.
Don’t do nothing. Silence is dangerous. It communicates approval and leaves the victim high and dry. Move physically closer and reach out in a non-threatening way.
I realize that this direct action takes nerve. It takes courage! It takes a kind of sacrificial love.
Engagement like this scares me. I want to be able to follow through. If ever there was something to be feared it is the increasing climate of hate around the world right now. The threat is real. And so is the fear.
One of the strongest, most prophetic statements in Scripture about love and fear comes from the First Letter of John, Chapter 4, verse 18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
What if we act with “…love and courage to help stop this madness?”