I’m immersed in the John Dear book Jesus the Rebel. Looking through the lens of a nonviolent Jesus (is there any other Jesus but a non-violent one? Surely not a violent one!), Dear proceeds to tell the Jesus story – highlighting how Jesus stands against the systems that perpetrate violence on people – especially the poor. In the chapter ‘The Mission’ he reflects on the passage from Luke 4 when Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. In announcing that the words are being fulfilled in the hearing of those gathered for worship, there is a reaction – “…the pious, religious congregation explodes with anger and violence. Feeling insulted by Jesus’ political accusations [the references to Elijah and the widow, and the Syrians], the devout congregation screams, ‘How dare he ruin the liturgy by speaking of God consorting with the enemy and implying that we are not on God’s side in the pursuit of justice.'”
Dear goes on, “Luke describes the transformation of a religious congregation into a murderous mob: The people are filled with fury; they rise up as one; they drive Jesus out of the town; they lead him to the brow of a hill; they intend to hurl him over the cliff. How do the faithful respond to Jesus’ call for justice? They try to kill him! His words unmake their murderous hearts, their allegiance to structural injustice, and their hostility towards their enemies. Jesus exposes them; they are not people of prayer and faith… rather, these devout people benefit from the empire’s oppression of the poor, its imprisonment of captives, its marginalisation of outsiders, and its class divisions that keep the land and economic resources in their pious and elite hands.” Jesus the Rebel p18-19
I have observed earlier the behaviours of crowds and systems and how easily they become mobs. In an attempt to do what they believe is right, they do wrong. In the name of the One who is sent, by God, to be as one of us – sent to the margins to gather us in, we marginalize people whose differences we cannot accept. We say that people who are of the same-sex cannot make covenants of marriage before God without first attending to how we handle ourselves and our power. Just because we can, should the majority act in God’s name in ways that marginalize people? Isn’t this contradictory with the heart of the reign of God as unfolded by Jesus?
This needs to be talked about – but the church I belong to, chose not to talk or even allow a conversation in the church about this issue. No, in a spirit of pious certitude, the majority made its statement and insisted that there was no conversation to be had. We not only marginalised people, but we chucked the possibility of discussion and discernment over the brow of a hill.
Jesus made his way ‘through the midst and went away.’ [Luke 4:30]
Later, much later, the mob finds its way to do the job properly – they side with their oppressors to create a superpower, they haul Jesus before their leaders and have him tried. Flimsy evidence is empowered by a shouting crowd and the ultimate betrayal of God ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ He is whipped within an inch of his life and hung on a cross to die in agony.
But this reign of God is of such force that even death cannot stop it – on the third day he is raised.
Yet, here we are, after the fact, gathering as mobs and acting as if the reign/kingdom of God has not come and God’s will has not been done on earth as in heaven! And what is worse – we do it in God’s name! Blimey!