This week’s worship service readings are key readings for understanding how Christians are to live in society. The Gospel text is Luke 9:51-62. This text provides two key lessons that should inform us in our social lives as Christians. This text first tells of Jesus on His way to meet his fate, “having set his face to go to Jerusalem”. On the way He and the disciples enter a Samaritan village but were turned away. This leads the disciples to ask "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?", at which point Jesus turns and rebukes them and they quietly move onto another village. Also, in this text Jesus talks about the requirements of discipleship and its difficulties.
The first part of this text is pretty clear. When faced with those who oppose or reject us the natural inclination is to react violently. The response of the disciples is all too human. They want the power of God to rain down fury on these Samaritans (long-time enemies of the Jews). It is interesting that in so many other places the disciples lack the faith to heal or restore but when wanting to do violence they are all too confident in their ability to faithfully get this accomplished. Jesus, of course, rejects this out of hand, in fairly stern fashion. I mean these guys aren’t called the duh-ciples for nothing! In the end, Jesus’ response is to simply move on.
Most mainstream and progressive preachers and theologians, as well as more conservative types, concur that this lesson is about not reacting in a human way by violently interacting with those who oppose us or refuse to receive us. One such commentary can be found here. Why then are these the same commentators who for one reason or another advocate state action to coerce those with whom they disagree?
That this is the case cannot be gainsaid. Both liberals and conservatives take this position. Whether it’s that they don’t like the way you spend your wealth or the way you run your business or that they want to keep people out of “their” country, or that certain people are worthy of receiving bombs, all across the political spectrum violence is the response. That this is done democratically does not change the moral nature of the act. The fact that it is done by the state, in fact, exacerbates the problem.
As is so often the case, moral confusion reigns in that people think what one cannot do, the many can. Sorry, but moral rights don’t accumulate. Jesus’ response is binding upon our consciences and that binding is not loosed just because we voted on it or it is done by a “duly authorized entity”. We are not to use violence…EVER! This is not the only place that Jesus rejects violence, in fact, there is no place in the texts where Jesus ever sanctions violence. I would challenge anyone to suggest otherwise.
So,what drives the impulse to react this way to those we oppose? That answer can be found in the New Testament reading from this week, Galatians 5:1,13-25. In this text Paul talks about the distinction between the desires of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. The desires of flesh produce “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these”. Obviously, these things can exist outside of a collective entity, as is all too sadly evident in our world when we consider, spousal abuse, murder, theft and all the various ways people harm one another.
However, we should recognize that the institutional expression of the desires of the flesh are manifest in the government. Not only that, government is the largest, most criminally violent entity in our world, responsible for the most egregious violations of the rights and dignities of God’s children. To decry interpersonal violence and yet encourage state violence is to spiritually and morally faceplant. This critique does not even take into account the blasphemous nature of the state as a competing worship center as I discussed here. The plain reading of this text could not be clearer; we are not to commit acts of violence, even, and perhaps, especially in the face of our enemies. Trying to square the circle by claiming that increasing governmental power increases human freedom is to redefine up as down and ignores Jesus’ clear opposition to human power structures.
Paul contrasts this with the fruits of the spirit which produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” and Paul also points out that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit”. That is to say if the Gospel has truly penetrated our heart, then we will reject the desires of the flesh to wreak violence upon our opponents and will choose the way of peace, the way of Jesus, which in practical terms means anarchy.
This brings us to the second lesson that the Gospel text offers us this week; the difficult requirements of being a disciple of Christ. Jesus states that to follow Him is hard. When someone says that he will follow Jesus, Jesus points out that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.", that is even animals have it easier than Jesus and His followers. Even more stunningly Jesus says in response to someone wanting to bury his father "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God”. There is much dispute as to the exact meaning. A smart Pastor once told me her seminary teacher thought that the simplest answer is usually the best one, which would suggest that this passage be taken literally, which would be stunning.
In any event the point is clear, we are to follow Jesus RIGHT NOW. We are not to wait; we are not to delay, and we are not to ever suggest that the ethic and life that Jesus calls us to is somewhere over the horizon. It is here, now and ever present in the hearts of those who accept the Gospel and are ready now to go live it and proclaim it. Living by the fruits of this spirit will be what sets us free.
Yes, all of this is radical. That is what Jesus preached and lived; radical love, radical forgiveness and radical peace. Will any of this make you popular? Hardly. Who cares, we followers of Christ have the favor of someone much greater than any on Earth. We need not be concerned with these desires of the flesh that drive us to such a sorry state of affairs. In the end if the Good News of Christ is in unreconcilable conflict with the statist desires of the age; too damn bad for the modern world. No king but Christ!
Praise Be to God