We are a bloodthirsty people.
When I say we, I don’t mean us here at Emmanuel, or even us as Americans, I mean the big “us”, humanity. For whatever reason, when under the right kind of pressure, and the right circumstances we will kill another person with the same ease with which we might bat an annoying fly out of our eyes.
Last week we killed a few dozen people in Tibet. The month before that we killed 1000 people in Kenya. Since the beginning of the war, we’ve killed 3,988 American soldiers and anywhere between 82,000 and 650,000 Iraqi civilians, depending on who is counting. Since 2003, we’ve killed between 98,000 and 181,000 Sudanese in Darful alone. In the last fifteen years we killed 937,000 people in Rwanda and 3,800,000 in the Kinshasha Congo.
And that’s just a sampling of political conflict from the last twenty years! Those figures don’t encompass the 180,000 people who were murdered last year in countries that keep records of that sort of thing. If you’re interested, the United States has the sixth highest murder rate, behind India, Russia, Columbia, South Africa and Mexico. Yay us? Only one person got murdered in Iceland, if you’re thinking about moving somewhere a little saner.
We don’t do too well with political figures we admire either. We killed Benazier Bhutto this year. We killed Indira Gandhi in the 80s. We killed both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Junior and Abraham Lincoln. We tried to kill the last Pope, too. We’ve killed quite a few up and coming politicians in Iraq and I’d list them, but they are just too many to name.
We also kill people who speak the truth to us. We killed Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist, and Daniel Pearl, the American one. We killed Kenji Nagai, the Japanese journalist covering the uprising in Burma. We killed Alisher Saipov in Uzbekistan and 64 journalists in 2007—half of them in Iraq.
Frankly, Jesus did not stand a chance. A truth-telling, religious and political upstart who claimed he was God? Yeah, that was going to end well.
Throughout most of history, Jesus’ death has been understood as the will of God—as an act of atonement so humanity’s relationship with God could be restored. And maybe that is true. But it might also be true that we have come to that understanding because Jesus’ death being God’s will is a much more soothing sentiment than Jesus’ death being the result of our uncontrollable, murderous impulses.
In two days, we’ll get to experience God’s redemption of the murder of his Son, but for now we’re left with our own culpability.
We’re left staring at ourselves in the mirror wondering what we would have done. Would we have tried to fight the powers that be, calm down the crowds and take the many moments of opportunity that presented themselves in order to attempt to free Jesus from his captors?
Would we have sat idly by, watching, but congratulating ourselves that at least we know this execution is distasteful?
Would we have shaken our fists and called out for his blood?
Would we have become terrified and run away?
The odds are we would have had one of those reactions. The women who loved Jesus sat silent vigil. The men who loved him hid themselves out of fear of being caught. Pilate, when given the option to follow his conscience and not execute Jesus, did what was easier. The crowd as individuals might have been reasonable people, but when massed together they became a vulgar, violent mob.
In a way, the death of Jesus is terribly ironic. After all, it is just because of our selfish, murderous, detached, lazy, hypocritical natures that we need a savior in the first place. When God was gracious enough to give us that savior, what do we do? We kill him. Of course.
So, where does this leave us? Are we soulless, moral-less people who are a danger to everyone around us? Of course not.
But we are capable of such things. Each of us. We carry with us the potential for hate, for violence, for betrayal, for deadly inaction. Thankfully, through the grace of God and events that will unfold over the next two days, we are not stuck in this mire. Thankfully, we are also capable of forgiveness, grace, understanding, and reconciliation. We are never stuck where we are–God is always shaping us to be more whole
In light of various events in the last week and a half, I’ve been thinking a lot about the remarks Bobby Kennedy made when he found out Martin Luther King had been shot. At one point he said,
My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
He went on to say,
And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
“To make gentle the life of this world.” What a beautiful expression and what difficult work. However, difficult, it is our work. For our work is to follow Christ, the rabble rouser and the peacemaker, wherever that may lead us.