Violence and Nonviolence

How quickly Christians forget Holy Week!

“They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.” (Matthew 21:46).

They
Feared
The
Crowds.

Do you remember Jesus’ words to the Temple Police?

“Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like a thief? Day after day, I sat in the temple teaching, but you didn’t arrest me.” (Matthew 26:55)

So this is for Christians who moralize about violent protest, who invoke Jesus in order to shame freedom fighters:

It wasn’t fear of nonviolence that kept the Temple Police from arresting Jesus for a whole week.

The only reason they nabbed our man was that, after several days of “disturbing the peace,” he went out of the city to wait for them, where no one would be hurt in a violent uprising, and gave himself up. And they still came out to arrest him with swords and clubs, dressed in riot gear!

So while Jesus deplored the use of violence, he definitely used the authorities’ fear of mob violence to his ever-loving advantage. If he hadn’t, they would have killed him ON PALM SUNDAY.

Nonviolence only has the potential to change things if violence is a possible option. That’s why we call it “non-violence” instead of “helplessness.” Earthly power understands nothing but violent power.

We also have to distinguish between “violence,” which is directed toward human bodies, and “property destruction.” Jesus apparently had no problem flipping tables and destroying merchants’ property in the Temple. He considered property destruction and trade disruption more acceptable that the economic exploitation of the poor. Have no doubt that the Roman authorities would be sympathetic to the statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Had they not “feared the crowds,” they would have killed him on the spot.

As he’s being led to his death, Jesus warns the women of Jerusalem about what will happen in a violent uprising: “If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

Jesus was the green way—he was the nonviolent path. And they were still killing him. No, Jesus did not “condone violence.” He recognized its inability to directly cause change. But never for a minute pretend that he didn’t recognize its strategic value in his own ministry in his last week. And in his final warning you need to hear, not a blanket condemnation of violent uprising, but his pessimism about earthly power—about US—ever understanding what it is losing when it rejects the green way.

His pessimism is directed toward those with power, and he speaks this heartbreaking truth to oppressed women and their children—the most vulnerable. Will we who reject kneeling at ball games and the simple assertion that “Black Lives Matter” understand violent protest? Probably not. We crucify prophets EITHER WAY.

If you’re going to moralize about the value of nonviolent protest, please understand what role you are playing in the Holy Week drama. You are not the oppressed women Jesus is speaking to. Do you support the Romans? The Temple Police? Do you even understand when a green way is being offered to you?

Because unless you are fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable, you sure as hell ain’t on the side of Jesus.

Today is only Pentecost. Have we already forgotten Holy Week?