I need a little refuge this week. Have you ever had one of those weeks where the world is just too much? Well, that week happened for me.
This week I was upset. I was upset by the deaths that Muslim extremists cause the world.
That should have been enough to ruin one’s entire week, then I went on social media. And, what you find on social media is probably the same thing you find when you go get coffee at the diner…you find hatred and calls for more violence.
There’s the “just blow them all up crowd.” There’s the “well, how about I just blow you up” crowd in reaction to the “just blow them all up crowd.”
There’s the call to hate all Syrian refugees. There’s the call to hate all the people who are calling to hate all Syrian refugees.
Then there was an unsolicited little tidbit of love from an acquaintance in high school that I have not talked to face-to-face in 22 years that popped up in my email out of the blue in reaction to Muslims who publicly denounced the terrorist attacks in Paris. The nature of the email stated that they do not believe Muslims who denounce violence. Instead, they believe that these Muslims are simply trying to soften our hearts so that they can get near us in order to attack again.
I can basically sum up the entire week in one word, “violence.” It is all about violence, and I need refuge from it. You probably do also. But look what I have done here; I have just brought all of this violence into this hollowed conversation. Sorry.
You know what I want? World peace. OK, now that I have gotten my beauty pageant moment out of the way, what I actually want are leaders who do not focus on violence. What I desire is to have a kingdom where hatred and violence are not the first option. A kingdom where hatred and violence are not the first reaction. Rather, I want a kingdom where they are consider last option, if considered at all.
And, so I have found a place of refuge this week. It is not in a deserted cabin in the woods…though I wish I had one of those…with a little pond to fish in. Nor, is it being raptured away from all of the evil of the world.
Rather, my place of refuge has been this bible verse from the gospel of John. It is the exchange between Pilate and Jesus before he is sentenced to death.
Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"
Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
Basically, Jesus says, if my kingdom were a regular sort of kingdom, the kind you find throughout the world, people would be engaged in violence right now to free me from my chains. But, my kingdom is not a regular sort of kingdom. No violence allowed.
I know it feels like sort of a pipe dream in the reality that is our world, but can we just take a moment and savor the idea that God’s kingdom does not include violence. It is the sort of refuge we seek where “Christ will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
But, it is more than a distant future in a distant life far, far away from here. Notice that Jesus makes these claims while still here in this world. He renounces his claim to violence right before he encounters the terror of the cross.
Jesus would rather suffer for the sake of a murderous world than to bring more violence to it. Hear that again, Jesus would rather suffer for the sake of a murderous world than to bring more violence to it.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this kingdom well when he talked about violence.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Once upon a time, while seated on the throne, a king was brought two criminals. The first came to the king with guilt in his eyes.
“Why have they brought you here to stand before me?” the king asked.
“My family was hungry, and I stole some royal food from your banquet” answered the poor man.
“You know that stealing is against one of the great commandments of God. All evil stops here. You deserve to be lashed with the whip.”
The king then turned to the second criminal.
“And, why have they brought you here to stand before me?”
“Sir, my neighbor killed my father, so I killed him as repayment for my father. And, then his son attacked me, so I killed him also.”
“You know that murder is against one of the great commandments of God. You have taken two lives. You deserve to die. The violence stops here!” the King declared.
And with that, the criminals were taken from the king’s presence, walked through the halls of the castle, brought through the front doors of the castle, were unbound and set free.
The criminals were utterly confused and looked at each other. At that very moment, they heard a squire shouting a royal edict from behind the walls of the castle.
“On the count of theft from the royal estate, lashes shall be the punishment.”
The two scrambled to climb the castle wall, and peer over its edge. When they had finally had made their way to the top stone, they peered over the edge seeing a bloodied man walking toward a gallows.
The squire cried out again, “On two counts of murder, the accused shall be put to death.”
How was it they had escaped punishment, but this man had not? Had he done worse than they? Was this king unfair, judging some and not others?
As the rope was placed over the accused head, his face turned their direction.
The face of the king peered back at them. It was only then that they understood. The king had said, “All violence stops here." And so it did. They just did not realize that the king was talking about himself…the violence stops here…the violence stops with myself.
The king clearly mouthed these words, staring across the distance right at them, “Now go and love.” And, with that, the platform dropped and it was over.
In the kingdom of the cross, violence does not multiply violence and hate does not spawn more hate. On the cross, all of our violence is put to death. All violence stops with Christ. In Jesus’ kingdom, violence is dead. It is not an option. And when violence is dead, only love remains. That is the kingdom we live in O people of God.