First preached on October 8, 2017 at St. Mark Lutheran Church.
Relevant lectionary readings here.
Grace and peace to you from God and from our Savior in Jesus Christ, Amen.
He started it!
They threw the first punch;
Fired the first shoot.
Crime and punishment.
Action and reaction.
An eye for and eye, right?
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end”
Have you ever experienced something the made your blood boil because of the injustice? Have you ever got so mad and worked up, it’s all you can think about? You are totally consumed by the need to get even.
Ask my spouse and kids if I ever get hot about the way people drive in Chicago.
Why is it that when we feel like we have been cheated or attacked, we feel the need to get even? Sometimes, even to the point of violence.
Last Friday, I was on a field trip with students from my daughters’ class. Whenever, there is a disagreement in their school that is too large to be resolved between the students, they call a council meeting. They nominate and vote on a council leader to moderate the discussion, hear both sides of the argument, hear any observations from other students, ask questions, and they purpose a resolution. The resolution is voted on and passed. It is amazing to watch students who are ages 7-14 go thought this method of self-governing. By sharing, talking, and listen to each other, the students are able to resolve very complicated issues.
On this particular Friday, two students got into an altercation in which one student had thought the other had sold Slime from him (if you don’t know what slime is, ask someone in elementary school, they can tell you). When the student reached to grab for his slime back, the other tried to pull away from him. During the struggle, the student who thought he had been stolen from, got hit in the lip with an elbow. He responded by slapping the other student in the face. This was very serious and so a council meeting was called. While students were publicly condemning the person who had committed the violent crime, the victim was adamant that the other student be suspended. And he was right to do so, what had happened was not ok and needed to be dealt with. But one of the oldest students in the school (the wize old age of 14) patiently waited to be called on. When it was his turn to speak, he took somewhat of a different stance. He addressed the defendant and said, “What he did was wrong and we do not tolerate that in our school, but I want to remind you of the time you hit me. We were able to resolve the issue between us without a council meeting. I think you should keep that in mind when passing judgement on your classmate.”
You could see the victims face visually soften. “Well he hasn’t even apologized!” In the end the class came to the conclusion an apology would be rendered and that student who had hit the other would not be invited to participate in certain favorite activities for two weeks in order to keep them separated and safe.
In our parable, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard and the injustice of the way the landowner and his servants were treated. The religious leaders Jesus was talking to, were also national leaders and come from a place of power and privilege. So when Jesus told them this parable, they identified with the character who has power and privilege, the landowner.
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
A wretched end. The word they use there, ἀπόλλυμι, is the same word used in Luke to descried the world destruction caused by the flood in Genesis. Elsewhere in Matthew this same word will be used by the priests when they call for the release of Barabbas and the Destruction of Jesus. Jesus himself uses it to describe something worse than death, an eternal destruction of the soul and body. So there is no questioning what kind of justice the religious leaders are calling for agents the murderous tenants.
There is one problem, they aren’t the land owner. God is the land owner. They wanted to be God.
They choose justice from their perspective – a violent justice, a stubborn justice, a broken, self-destructive justice.
They called for the way of violence, for the way of the tenants, for the way of the people who grasp for power and control and hierarchal superiority over others. “I am bigger than you and stronger then and I will get my way!” Might makes right. The way of violence through war and capital punishment. The way of destruction by bombs in Baghdad or bullets from broken windows in Las Vegas. This is the way separation and most of all, this is the way of death!
Jesus says people who choose this way have set themselves again the cornerstone of God – which is love. And those who wish to destroy the cornerstone (God’s Eternal Love), to shatter it, to reduces it to rubble, will only break themselves. They will be broken into pieces and scattered like dust.
Jesus tells us there is another way, the way of victory. Victory comes from sharing. Sharing our recourses, our labor, our food, our wealth, our power, our Slime so that everyone’s needs are meet. Victory comes through grace. Providing grace in the face of injustice, recognizing the humanity in all people, acknowledging the image of God in them. Victory comes with praise. Giving our thanks and praise to God. It is gladness in place of hate, sincerity in place of hypocrisy, a witness to the favor of God in place of self-promotion. It is an everlasting justice. It is the victory of Jesus Christ, our redeemer, and savior, and Lord, crucified, died and risen. Victory is God’s justice.
I imagine Jesus telling this with a sense of urgency. “Don’t you get it? Have you not even read the scriptures!” Pleading with them to choose God’s justice, God’s victory over violence, destruction, and death, because Jesus knows what happens to those who don’t. He knows that the path of violence only leads to death.
And how do how the religious leaders respond to Jesus’s urgings? This Gospel message? “They sought to seize Him”
The religious leaders come from a place of power and privilege. They were in control and want to stay in control. They will do anything to keep it that way. They will do the only thing they know to do – violence, destruction, and death.
So when you threaten unjust authority like Jesus did, authority lashes out. Jesus stood up against the agents of oppression those who thought they were in control in his own day, and true to form they lashed out. When Fredrik Douglas said no more slavery, they lashed out. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, they lashed out. When MLK marched in Selma, they lashed out. When Cesar Chavez, said Si se puede, roughly “yes we can” for farm workers’ rights, they lashed out. When protesters in Ferguson refuse to get out of the streets, they lash out. When Brie Newsome climbed a flag pole to remove a symbol of oppression, they lashed out. When indigenous peoples said no pipelines though our sacred lands, authority lashed out. When clergy and people of faith so no more racism in South Carolina, they lashed out.
God doesn’t always call us to safety, but God always calls us towards justice. We know that because of our baptism, our identity is in Christ. When we take communion we remember God is in us. We are the people of God and we will have God’s victory.
And Jesus is there with us, every time, pleading with us to come back to him, to stop choosing the way of oppression and injustice a way that only leads to death, and empowers us instead to choose God’s Love and Liberation. Amen.
2 thoughts on “Victory over Violence”
This message needs to be repeated and sung loudly. I hope that your audience is loud and this message is shared. It has made a very good ending to the beautifful autumn day that God has blessed us with. Thankyou for sharing a well stated sermon.