In 2 Chronicles (36:14-16, 19-23) we have an account of the destruction of the Temple, the captivity in Babylon, and Cyrus allowing the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple. The view that God directly punishes people for their sins comes from a less developed view of God. This tribal God has compassion but it only goes so far. Then, the people will pay the consequences of their infidelity. This view will evolve with Jesus who shows us the infinite, unlimited compassion of God.
The nonviolent God of Jesus is with all people not just a chosen few. The God of Jesus is present to each of us in our daily lives, in season and out of season, in the good and the bad. In faith, we learn to trust in God. We learn to hope in God. We learn to love God and one another.
God is the rock of hope for people who are oppressed and who are in captivity. The nonviolent God gives people the strength of hope, the strength to believe that nonviolent responses to evil will liberate them and their oppressors. People who are oppressed struggle with the issue of armed resistance versus nonviolent resistance. Revolutions in the Philippines and the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe show us that nonviolent resistance to evil will triumph if we give it a chance.
Give it a chance. After a recent talk to a church group on Merton, a man who had served over 30 years in the military challenged me on Merton’s view of the Vietnam War in which he had served. I told him, “I am not dishonoring your service but I do hope that, in the future, we might learn to resolve our difference nonviolently.” He replied, “That’s fine but not all people will come with the right mind to settle differences.” Give nonviolence a chance. If our paradigm is military force, it is hard to start from the premise that nonviolence will work-the enemy will not respond to nonviolence. The very requirement of nonviolent resistance, however, is the hope and belief that nonviolence will work. It’s a different mindset, a different starting point and it makes all the difference in the world when we try to resolve differences.
The Psalmist tells us that the captives wept as they sat by the streams of a foreign land and remembered their land. This is the agony and plight of political refugees. They long and pine for their land. They have a burning desire to return to their homes and homeland. Some Palestinian refugees from 1948 still have the keys to their front doors. Perhaps, just perhaps because we do not know for sure, the Israelites nonviolently resisted their captors and oppressors. Certainly, Cyrus had a change of heart and allowed them to return and rebuild their Temple and nation.
Paul (Eph 2:4-10) reminds us that contemplation (union with God) comes through faith. It is a gift. We cannot earn God’s presence but we can certainly rely on God’s infinite mercy and compassion. God will gift us with life. John 10:10 assures us that Jesus came so that we might have life and that we might have it in abundance (have everything we need).
In John (3:14-21) Jesus also assures Nicodemus that he has come so that we might have life. Notice that Jesus does not say “eternal life” in either of these passages. Life is life. Jesus wants us to have life so that we might become fully human. Jesus did not die to appease an angry Father God figure. Jesus came to give us life, to show us the love and mercy and compassion of Abba God.
Light is the symbol of God’s presence. We live in darkness and emptiness. When we enter our cellars to pray, we close the door. We become present. We live the moment. As we fall into the depths of our being, we fall into an abyss-nothingness, darkness, emptiness. There is no-thing. If we abandon our acquisitive false selves and stay in this void, God will gift us with life. God will fill our nothingness with the immensity of God’s love, full measure and overflowing. Then, as the false self dies slowly, God’s love empowers us to love God in return and to love one another. This is the love that empowers nonviolent living. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” Our false self would rather assert itself. Our false self would rather resort to violence to acquire and maintain what we want and need. But, Jesus says, “I say unto you-Love. Live in me where your true self will be nurtured by divine love. Dwell in me so that you might be strengthened to live nonviolently. Live in the light. Come out of the darkness of your false self and live in the brilliant light of your true self. Live love.”
On the social level, we today are living in great darkness. Reading today’s scripture commentary on the Education for Justice web page helped me clarify my thinking on these readings. (I highly recommend a subscription to this site http://www.educationforjustice.org/node/3043) Archbishop Romero said that our personal sins of acquisitiveness crystallize into social structures which bind and oppress.
Darkness abounds-the world economic crisis, lost jobs, lost homes, lost hope, billions living on less than $2 a day, refugees in Darfur, Gaza, and Iraq, war in Iraq and Afghanistan (and soon in Pakistan if we are not vigilant), blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the list could go on. We are immersed in a culture of death.
Jesus brings light to the darkness. Grace abounds. Life will trump darkness and death. As a nation, we need to examine our acquisitive false self-the war for oil, water and hegemony in the Middle East is just one example. What about the sweat shops around the world that are producing the goods that advertisers tell us we need to acquire? What about trade agreements that benefit us and force people to leave their native countries in search of work? What about the oppression and mistreatment of migrant farm workers so we can have cheaper tomatoes and oranges? This is the culture of death. The true self of our nation is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all and not just for a favored few. Jesus calls us to usher in the culture of life. He came so that every human being might have life and have what he/she needs.