“The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross.”
The crucifixion in November? What’s that about? Someone even asked me if I was sure I had the correct gospel for today. It is the correct gospel for today and I completely understand their question. Today’s gospel (Luke 23:33-43) feels out of place.
It seems strange that on the last Sunday of the church year we are again watching Jesus on the cross. Most of us are probably starting to focus on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Besides we’ve already heard the Good Friday story once this year and that’s usually enough for most of us. Why do we need to hear it again?
Maybe we need to hear it again because the injustice and violence revealed in today’s gospel are an every day occurrence in our lives and the world. Maybe we need to hear it again because we too often and too easily ignore, accommodate, or participate in violence. Maybe we need to hear it again because, despite all that, today – the Feast of Christ King – reminds is that the reign of Christ, the way of Jesus, is nonviolent.
What do you see as you watch Jesus on the cross? What feelings does it bring up in you?
I’ve become more and more afraid of what I see as I watch Jesus on the cross.
I watch him die. I watch them “cast lots to divide his clothing.” I watch the leaders scoff at him, the soldiers mock him, and one of the criminals deride him. That’s not, however, what most frightens me. What really frightens me is how Jesus responds to the injustice and violence.
Jesus forgives them. He does not scoff, mock, or deride. He does not judge or condemn them. He does not retaliate or seek revenge. He doesn’t call them names. He doesn’t yell at or cuss them. He doesn’t express anger. He neither speaks nor acts with violence. He chooses “to suffer violence and injustice rather than be their cause.” (Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence, 87)
Today’s gospel holds before us the image of a nonviolent Jesus. That’s what frightens me. Maybe it frightens you too. Maybe you and I should be afraid; not of Jesus, but of the violence within ourselves.
If you and I claim to be Christians and to follow the way of Jesus, then we also are to become nonviolent in our thoughts, words, and actions. If nonviolence is the way of Jesus then what does that mean for us and, for example, the war in Ukraine, the shooting last night in Colorado Springs, the way we drive, or the words and tone we use on social media?
When I speak of violence I’m not talking only about wars and felony criminal kind of violence. I’m talking about all the ways we hurt ourselves and others physically, emotionally, or spiritually I’m talking about the ways we diminish or negate the human dignity of ourselves and others by what we think, say, and do.
I don’t think nonviolence is something we achieve, it’s a path we follow. Addressing violence in our lives and our world is a spiritual journey. It’s something we grow into. It’s not only about the violence we do to others, but also the violence we do to ourselves. Maybe that’s where nonviolence must begin.
Maybe the reason Jesus could be nonviolent toward others is because he was first nonviolent toward himself. Maybe the first step to addressing violence in our world today is to deal with the violence we inflict on ourselves.
What violence are you inflicting on yourself today? Do you ever put yourself down, call yourself names, berate or ridicule yourself? What are the things, regrets, guilt, missed opportunities, with which you still beat yourself up? Are you denying yourself forgiveness? How do you feel about yourself, your life, body, and soul? In what ways are your hurting yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually? (Dear, The Nonviolent Life, 25-30)
Can you give yourself a break and show yourself some compassion? What if you truly believed you are the beloved of God, a child with whom God is well pleased? What if you began listening to a voice of self-love rather than the self-critical voices?
What would it be like to live with “unconditional friendliness toward yourself?” (Pema Chodron) How might you start to make peace with yourself? (Dear, 29)
Imagine if we let unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and peacemaking with ourselves be starting points for our relationships with others or, as Jesus puts it, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We might begin to recognize her or him to be as sacred as ourselves and his or her hopes and needs to be as valid and important as our own. We might feel less need to prove, defend, or justify ourselves. It might take our fear or anger down just a bit. If that were to happen how might it change what we think, the words we choose, or the things we do?
I don’t think I’ve ever said while driving, “That child of God just cut me off!” I have, however, referred to him or her as that son of something else who cut me off. And one day when I did my younger son who was riding with me popped up and wanted to know, “Where’s that son of a …?”
What if we start small and begin to replace our everyday ordinary acts of violence with nonviolence? Nonviolent driving (Ibid, 85), nonviolent posting, nonviolent self-talk might be good ways to begin.
What if nonviolence toward ourselves and one another was our vision for the future? What if we worked for a nonviolent Uvalde? What would that look like and mean for you today? What would it offer you and what would it ask of you? I suspect the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.
I don’t know if we will finally eliminate violence from our world, but do we have to continue adding to it?
Image Credit: The Crucifixion by Theophanes of Crete (XVI C) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
powerful sermon, In this age of systemic violence and oppression, this is a great start, thank you.
A wonderful reminder of what could be, for us, our friends and neighbors, and even those we don’t know. What has to change within us to achieve that mindset? Thank you, Michael, once again. for your heart-felt words reminding us of who we are, in Christ.