As I write this, people are pounding the drums of war. North Korea keeps flinging missiles and doing nuclear tests, making themselves out to be ready to initiate war. Not to be outdone, people in the United States are ready to make North Korea a smoking wasteland. In other parts of the world, people are using the pretext of religious beliefs to initiate terror attacks on those with whom they disagree. I read somewhere that over Labor Day weekend in Chicago, shooting victims decreased by about a half – “only” 7 people died and 28 were injured. There are times and places when this world is not a friendly environment. In the movie “The Untouchables” Sean Connery chastised a would-be assassin for bringing a knife to a gunfight. We deplore violence, and yet it fascinates us in fiction and in real life.
It’s amazing that even a message of peace can engender violence. Think about the message of Jesus. As Jesus talked about freedom, the Pharisees called Him a demon-possessed Samaritan. (The demon-possessed line wasn’t so bad, but calling Jesus a Samaritan would have been fighting words for any other man!) Jesus talked about eternal life, and the Pharisees called His sanity into question. Then, Jesus called them liars and made a statement that enraged the Pharisees: He claimed to be God. “’Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:58-59)
The Hebrew word for “I Am” is the name for God. When Moses asked God His name so that he could tell the Hebrews in Egypt the name of the God he served, God answered with “I Am.” Even today, many observant Jews would type out “G_d” instead of God lest they take the name of the Lord in vain. So when Jesus used that phrase, “before Abraham was born, I am” I have no doubt that He pointed at Himself to emphasize that He was talking about Himself and the enraged Pharisees were so fed up that they picked up rocks to stone Him. Yes, the Romans had made that illegal. Yes, there would have been consequences for that action, but the Pharisees were so enraged that they were ready to kill Jesus then and there. It was neither the time nor the place for Jesus to die yet, so He slipped away as the Pharisees picked up their stones. I find it interesting that this chapter begins with Pharisees picking up and dropping their stones at the force of Jesus’ teaching, and it ends with the Pharisees picking up stones again, the same ones, perhaps?, that never found their marks because of the power of Jesus’ teaching.
If I were to give the Pharisees a bit of wisdom, I would tell them never to bring stones to a fight with the Creator of those stones. Then, I would breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that I would never do anything like that. Only, when I get direction from God I try to worm my way out of it. If someone were to confront me with said “worm-out” I would find some way to justify my action, or lack thereof. Lest I be too hard on the Pharisees for seeking religious violence, I need to remember what side of the resurrection they lived on. Some came to follow Jesus after the resurrection, but only a few listened to Jesus beforehand. They had years of religious training and experience which proclaimed a Messiah that they didn’t see in Jesus, and they forgot that God has the final say in things. They have an excuse. Meanwhile, I have the witness of the resurrection, the examples of almost 2000 years of saints who have negotiated life using faith, and I still fail to realize His amazing power and sovereignty. No, I wouldn’t resort to violence, nor pick up stones to settle my difference with God, but I’m sure that my disobedience hurts God far more than even sticks and stones would.
Oh Lord, I can’t help but imagine how much my disobedience hurts You. Guide me to live in obedience.