The Violent Love of God

A Note from the Editor: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July and got to spend time with family and friends! Due to the holiday, this weeks calendar is a bit different, thank you all for bearing with us and your continued support of CBC and the CBC Times! -Julia

There is a puzzling scene in the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. John the Baptist has sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether or not He is, in fact, the Messiah. "Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?" It would seem that John had begun to waver in his resolution that Jesus was (by John's own label) the lamb of God. Perhaps Jesus was not all that the fanfare had made Him out to be. Perhaps John's own life and ministry had been a mistake, now approaching its anticlimactic demise. Perhaps, in a sick irony, that bruised reed would be broken, and the smoldering wick quenched, and all for naught. The Voice Crying Out becomes a whimper unto hollow silence.

This is one possible interpretation, but I believe it to be an unjust reading of the event. The behavior and cryptic words of John indicate to us that he unambiguously knew himself to be a prophet, and to take this role for himself was no mere dilettante accolade because anybody even vaguely familiar with the lives of the prophets must also be familiar with the manner of their deaths. Jesus makes reference to this common knowledge when he occasionally chastises the Jews for wanting to kill Him too: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you..." It is unreasonable to maintain that the man who had spent his life decreasing in order to magnify his cousin was turning tail now that the going had gotten tough.

 

Alternatively, Alban Goodier maintains that John sent the disciples to Jesus not for his sake, but for theirs. They needed reassurance because their own master was in jail facing death, they hesitated to follow the indications of John to abandon him for Jesus. John had pointed out the Lamb of God to them some time before, and two of them had left his side to walk at that of Jesus. But still, most of the disciples hesitated. they knew John and loved him. When they compared their master to this Jesus the Nazarene Whom they were apparently to follow, the doubted. From the beginning John had been unique among men: by his austere manner of life, his prayer, his preaching, the streak of lightning in his eye...in almost every conceivable way he seemed to exceed the carpenter from Nazareth Who had a reputation for ritual laxity, didn't seem to submit Himself with any regularity to the heavy yoke of penance, Whose disciples had a reputation for incompetence…

 

When they leave, Jesus turns to the crowd and speaks of His cousin John. He affirms that John is indeed the apex of all the prophets whose vocations were drowned in violence and uncertainty for the sake of the Reign of God. He asks the crowd, in essence, "what else did you expect? This is, in a sense, how it must be. One who would follow God in a world that hates Him must foresee travail and death if he would also persevere to the end of that vocation."

I think this scene from the life of Jesus is a great vignette for keeping in mind that the experience of suffering is not an obstacle to the abundance of life promised by the Savior to those who follow Him. In fact, it is necessary. Paul minces no words: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope to arrive at the resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus told the crowds that day that “…the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” The kingdom of heaven suffers violence on account of those who attack it (like Herod who puts the prophet John to death, the Pharisees who orchestrate the death of Jesus, the crowds who stand idly by and watch), and this is inevitable. Likewise, on all sides we feel ourselves beset by weakness, overwhelmed by the experience of our own hypocrisy and our inability (or simple refusal) to love God and neighbor; to forgive and bear wrongs patiently, to trust God. We cling to our idols the way John’s disciples clung to Him, even despite his own insistence to be abandoned for the sake of the love of Jesus.

But the prophets also illustrate that in the face of such circumstances, their obedience to God will be equally “violent,” or it won’t be adherence at all. “This generation is like children who sit on the street corners and call to one another: we played and you did not dance…” One who would not follow God isn’t capable of recognizing what following Him actually entails: the obedience of blind faith, the clinging to God’s mercy at the revelation of our filth and wretchedness, the humiliation and suffering-unto- death for the sake of the glory one day to be revealed in us; sharing and replaying in our own lives the death of Jesus in order to partake of His resurrection life.

In the business of loving God, there will be blood. “But be of good cheer, for in the world you will have tribulation, and I have overcome it.”