Jesus, Merton & Non-Violence – A Palm Sunday Reflection

1 Apr
(Mark 15:9-47)
James Hillman, a archetypal psychologist, wrote a book called ‘The Terrible Love of War’, exploring humanity’s simultaneous attraction and aversion to war. The chapters of his book have the following titles: ‘War is Normal’, ‘War is Inhuman’, ‘War is Sublime’ and ‘Religion is War’. He also suggests that peace is just an interlude between war, and can never be a lasting event, for to have peace there has to be a victory, someone has to lose. For peace to remain this has to reoccur over and over again.
As much as we are reviled by some of his premise, the longer I live the more I recognise the element of truth that sits under his ideas. Human beings are violent creatures. The world is a violent place. Watch the National geographic daily footage of animals eating other animals, floods, cyclones and more. The nightly news and the daily headlines scream violence.
I have seen my share of violence. Domestic violence in the house I grew up in, bullying at school, working the drug scene in the 70’s, as a prison chaplain to maximum security prisons and in my work with families and young people.
For 3 months I was posted to Broken Hill as a cadet Salvation Army officer and left on my own for a number of weeks as the officer in charge went on leave. In that time I stood on verandas restraining angry husbands as their wives and children hurriedly grabbed clothes and belongings and fled to a shelter. I remember begging a lady to leave her husband who used to abuse her every day. She said ‘where can I go out here?’ The perpetrator was in his 70’s.
In Brisbane I helped develop a community garden with a Sudanese man whose wife was the only member of her family to survive a massacre in her village.
I stood in the morgue at Mt Isa and saw an aboriginal man who suffered a death we hear little of in the city, but one that is not unusual out there. He had been run over by a road train while sleeping on the road. No-one stopped.
In the Navy we worked with numerous young men and women traumatised by the violence they experienced in the campaign to turn back the boat people. Like most veterans they suffered not only physical violence but a psychological violence which never leaves.
War and violence litter our world with blood. And we seem to need blood to give reason for the loss of innocence and the innocent. Our reverence for Gallipoli as the time when Australia came of age is tied directly to the blood of young Australians.
The Easter story is another story of blood and rightly or wrongly we focus on the death of Jesus as somehow being necessary to set us free from the failings of our own personal humanity. The story of Jesus’ death has been appropriated as a way to set us free from sin and the devil.
On Palm Sunday we are confronted with an option that stands against violence, war and blood, and if taken seriously, it will give us a new understanding of Jesus’ death. It is the option of non-violence. Jesus’s bases his life on the non-violent response to the violence of others, of nature, of political ideology and to those who oppress the people of the land he grew up in.
Palm Sunday ushers in the final confrontation between the way of power and blood, and the way of non-violence. On Palm Sunday we have Jesus riding into the city surrounded by his friends and others. He is seated on a young donkey, a colt. The people sing songs of exultation and lay down their robes and palm branches, the symbols of peace, on the road before him.
At the same time, Marcus Borg and other scholars suggest, there was a procession of a different quality going on on the other side of time. It was a show of military might and power by the Roman occupiers. Men on horses dressed in all their glory showing off the might of the Empire, the might which had and continued to subdue the locals. Ruthless and bloody.
Jesus’ procession mimicked what was probably an annual event at Passover and said loudly and clearly, violence is not the answer. There is another power and it is the power of compassion and acceptance, of love and respect, of hope and freedom. Its way was not to confront power with power, as many had hoped. Jesus reminds us, and those watching, that the act of violence only brings about more violence, as the Zealot’s and others were to find out a little further down the line.
Jesus journey from the last supper, through the garden of Gethsemane and through the Jewish and Roman legal systems and onto his death on the cross, exemplifies Jesus commitment to non-violence.
 What does this non-violence look like:
  •  Thomas Merton, Catholic Monk and writer, writes:
“Christian non-violence is not built on a presupposed division, but on the basic unity of man. It is not out for the conversion of the wicked to the ideas of the good, but for the healing and reconciliation of man with himself, man the person and man the human family.”(Faith and Violence, 15) This is the story of the cross. Jesus was not attempting to convert humanity but to heal its wounds by exemplifying the non-violent option. His death said loudly and clearly, enough is enough. Violence has no part in the resurrection we are to live.
  •  Merton goes on to suggest:
“ A test of our sincerity in the practice of non-violence is this: are we willing to learn something from the adversary?…” (24) Dialogue and engagement, not acts of defensive or aggressive violence are to be our performative response, although it does not rule out the possibility of the need to protect oneself, it does suggest that this is an option of last resort. 
  •  Merton finally suggests, in line with what we see occurring in the face of Jesus’ committed resistance to the brutality of the political and religious world:
“Nonviolence is not for power but for truth. It is not pragmatic but prophetic. It is not aimed at immediate political results, but at the manifestation of fundamental and crucially important truth. Nonviolence is not the language of efficacy but of kairos. It does not say ‘We shall overcome’, so much as to say ‘This is the day of the Lord, and whatever may happen to us, He shall overcome.’ (Nonviolent Alternative, 75)
So what does have to say to us in a world that can, and has been, violent to others and us? How do we practice non-violence in our daily lives? How do we learn from those who appear to be against us? Where do we find the courage to wait on God throughout a difficult time and resist the urge to fight back? How do we ignore the mantra we hear everyday, if you don’t look after yourself, nobody else will, implying we have to fight for what we want? How do we change our mindset from competitive to collaborative, allowing us to work with instead of defeating others?
These are difficult questions for each of us to grapple with. There is no simple answer. We are called to do what as Jesus did – to trust the process and the one who is in charge of the process, allowing ourselves the luxury of hope and confidence, not in a successful resolution but in an outcome based on integrity and truth.
We know Jesus struggled a number of times through his life with the possibility of an unjust and painful death, the apparent failure of his mission. Instead of fighting to win he maintained the integrity of non-violence, showing us that there is another way. He gives us no blueprint to follow. Just an example lived out in dialogue with the same tensions we face everyday. His example simply says, ‘Remain faithful, God will overcome.’ AMEN

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