Monday, January 25, 2010

Jesus and Violence

I was talking with someone the other day, discussing violence—as in anti-abortion violence—and this person said to me (as many people do) that Christians should never do anything violent, because Jesus never did anything violent. I said "You've never read the New Testament have you?" They said "No." This much was obvious to me.

Contrary to popular opinion, all four Gospels record Jesus acting violently; on one, particular occasion:

"And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons." Matthew 21:12

"And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, 'Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers'." Mark 11:15-17

"And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, 'It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers.'" Luke 19:45-46

"The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, 'Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade.' His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for thy house will consume me'" John 2:13-17

This account, of Christ's cleansing of the temple, is, in John's gospel, especially detailed. According to John, Jesus took the time to make "a whip of cords", which he then used to drive the moneychangers from the temple. In other words, he beat these people with it. That sounds violent to me. And that's not all; according to all four gospel accounts (and it's rare for all four gospels to include any one incident so similarly) Jesus also turned over the moneychangers tables; scattering coins and pigeons everywhere. As you may realize, this act, on Jesus' part, is a violent act of property destruction.

"This", I told my friend, "is why I have no problem, as a Christian, with Christians who engage in the violent destruction of abortion clinic properties." "But", said my friend, "It doesn't do any good; the clinics will simply reopen and the abortions will continue just as they had before. Abortion clinic violence never really changes anything, so why even bother?" "So why did Jesus bother?", I asked my friend, "No doubt, as soon as he left the temple that day, the moneychangers simply picked up their tables and their pigeons, cared for their wounds (inflicted by Jesus), and went back to business as usual anyway; right?"

So why did Jesus, in this particular case, act in this way? Why the violent behavior? Everyone knows that Jesus taught us that we should turn the other cheek, right?

"'You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42

Isn't there a serious contradiction here? How can this be? Why didn't Jesus simply leave the moneychangers (who were at the temple that day) alone? Why? Jesus didn't "let it go" because the sin of the moneychangers was an affront, not to the man Christ Jesus himself, personally, but to God, his (our) heavenly Father. And we are to be like Christ: concerning personal insults and injuries, we are to "turn the other cheek", and, whenever necessary, which is very rarely, we are to resist and punish evil-doers when their actions are an affront to God, our heavenly Father.

Abortion, for example, is a direct affront to God, our Creator. It offends his dignity, his majesty, his glory, his moral law, and the laws of nature. Abortion, the legalized killing of little babies, simply because they are unwanted, is a most grievous sin. Such atrocities make a mockery of God and of humanity itself. God will not be mocked, and legalized abortion on demand cannot be allowed to go unchecked by the Christian community. What kind of world would we be living in if no one ever bothered the abortionists? If no one even made so much as a one-time, violent, symbolic statement for God and for what is right? Jesus did exactly this, regarding the temple; even though his actions never really changed anything. But what kind of a person would Jesus have been if he hadn't done anything about the moneychangers? He wouldn't have been himself, that's for sure. As himself, Jesus did not hesitate to take the time to make a whip of cords, beat the moneychangers out of the temple, turn over their tables, and tell them exactly what they were doing wrong and exactly what God thought of their sin (i.e., he's not at all happy about it).

To my thinking, the abortion issue is a very similar case: let the abortionists know that God is not at all happy with their brutal, bloody actions: abortion is the intentional, violent destruction of the most precious and innocent human lives on the planet. It's shameful; and so is our inaction regarding it.

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