Following The Non-Violent jesus

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 30, Spring 2004

Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

The follower of the non-violent Jesus must be committed to proclaiming by word and deed, in season and out of season, that the only Jesus there is or ever was to believe in, to follow, to pray to, to worship is the non-violent Jesus of the Gospel. Such Christians have to resolutely dedicate themselves to bringing this Gospel truth and its network of implications to all the Churches of Christianity. The most immediate and self evident of these implications is that non-violent love and authentic discipleship are always and forever bound to each other.

The follower of the non-violent Jesus is engaged in this task because love of and fidelity to Christ ‘compels’ it (2 Cor 5/14). Where God morally expects more, silence is sinful. A person is not permitted to stand by and say nothing while someone teaches that arsenic is cough mixture. It would be intolerable for a Christian to look on in silence as the minds of those chosen by Jesus to be disciples are being poisoned by counterfeit proclamations about the Christ and His way.

Human integrity alone would insist that if a person such as Jesus lives and dies on behalf of a truth such as the non-violent love of friends and enemies as the Way of God, this truth should be acknowledged as his truth, whether people agree with him or not.

Peace: the end and the means to the end

Enter the presently miniscule number of Christians proclaiming the non-violent Jesus. They are spiritual and intellectual magnifying glasses for their fellow violence-justifying Christians and for the rest of humanity.

Peace is the gift of the God of Peace and is the task of the assemblies and individuals who are disciples of the Prince of Peace. The task cannot be accomplished without embracing the gift of the non-violent Holy Spirit of Peace. Acceptance of the gift cannot be achieved without removing whatever barriers have to be removed in order to receive the gift.

For a Christian to follow Jesus only in terms of external behaviour is de facto not to follow the non-violent Jesus who lives, but is instead to follow the non-existent Jesus who never was.

Fidelity needed, not a crowd

It is a biblical truism that God does not need numbers. God needs only fidelity. From Abraham to Jesus, the fidelity of the one or the few is more important to the realisation of God’s plan than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Which of us passing by the stinking little rat infested hill called Golgotha on the first Good Friday two thousand years ago and seeing the naked, brutalised, suffocating Jesus of Nazareth would have said, ‘There is a man more powerful than Tiberius Caesar! There is a man who will move the world way beyond anything Tiberius could ever dream!’ Not one of us would have thought such thoughts. Not one of us would have looked at the poor soul on the cross, gasping for breath in order to say ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,’ and reflected, ‘There is a power that will leave Caesar in the dust.’ Yet today, two thousand years after that first Good Friday, Tiberius Caesar is but a footnote in history and all time is measured by that poor soul, struggling to love his enemies and to overcome evil with good until his last agonised death rattle.

Freely given fidelity in thought, word, deed, mind and heart, in desire and behaviour, in little matters and great, to God’s will and way as revealed by the non-violent Jesus is all God wants. It is all God needs to renew the face of the earth beyond anything that any human being can envisage.

Pacifism and gospel non-violence

It is necessary to be clear about what is God’s will and God’s way as revealed by Jesus before fidelity can be given to it. Pacifism is a word that first entered into modern language about the year 1880 in France. The Oxford English Dictionary first cited it in the 1910 edition. The word is of questionable Christian validity today. It does not define or describe what the non-violent way of Jesus is. In practice it can be an outright interference to hearing all that Jesus does say about non-violent love in the Gospels. Pacifism is the rejection of war based on either philosophical or revelatory grounds. Gospel non-violence is the conformity of mind and heart, soul and body, desire and behaviour specifically to the person of the non-violent Jesus and his way of non-violent love of friends and enemies. Such conformity self-evidently makes participation in war morally impermissible and in this sense the Christian is a pacifist. But the Christian is commissioned by vocation to go so far beyond simply not participating in war. Hence the word, pacifism, can be gravely misleading to the normal person trying to discern what the will of God is as revealed in the non-violent Jesus.

I use this distinction between pacifism and Gospel non-violence in order to reflect with clarity on the mass murder spree in which the US Government (and its allies) are presently involved in Iraq and how the follower of the non-violent Jesus must respond.

Let us begin by having the uprightness to do what Albert Camus asked, namely to call murder ‘murder’ when we see it. I call Gulf War II murder because I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. According to the way of morality announced by him in the Gospel, it is murder. Even by the most contorted application of that utterly irrelevant spiritual sleeping pill some Christians call the Just War theory, this business in Iraq is blatant murder. This walk on the dark side that has been organised by the US and British political and economic elites is not Frazier vs Ali. It is Al Capone and his machine gun-toting thugs blowing away a third grade class. It is murder by all traditional institutional Church standards – and murder does not become anything less than murder just because it is mass murder or legalised. Those who directly support murder are ipso facto complicit in murder.

We have all witnessed mega-corporate mass media nightly lie by commission and omission and use its power to drum up the emotions of barbarous patriotism on behalf of murder. We are outraged and incensed by the unrelenting spread of the anti-Christic spirits of evil released by this war. The evil of raw violence devoid of even moral pretence seems to sit in the driver’s seat and boldly dares anyone to try and interfere with its agenda. Churches, theologians and preachers have already begun the propaganda process by which they plan to baptise Orwellian Christianity. The theologies and homilies Christianising the new National Security State are upon us.

This then is a moment of temptation for us who struggle to be good faith disciples of the non-violent Jesus. Do we continue to follow the non-violent Jesus or do we dump him in order to follow one or other of the nonexistent Jesuses?

Let us beware and be aware because the evils of violence and enmity possess magnetic power that can drag people into their spirits. They can induce people to imitate them internally and externally and to initiate reciprocal dynamics of escalating hostility and cruelty. Those who are committed to the non-violent Jesus of the Gospel must not allow this to happen within themselves or within their communities. There is truly a feature of evil which enrages the souls of those who see it, after they have broken through the contrived façade constructed to obscure its horror. The Christian in obedience to Christ must vow eternal hostility towards evil but he or she must be on guard not to become hostile towards the evildoer.

The power and courage to unrelentingly proclaim the full Gospel of the non-violent Jesus and his non-violent Way emanates directly from a constant and committed conscious relationship with the God of Peace as revealed by Jesus, with God who is love (agape), with God who is the infinitely and eternal loving Father, Mother, Parent of each person and of all. Without determination to maintain this conscious relationship we lose our courage, we lose our energy, we lose our Way, we lose our peace, we lose our awareness of the presence of the non-violent Holy Spirit and we easily succumb to the temptation to follow a non-existent Jesus.

(This article by Fr Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is adapted from Follow the Non-violent Jesus or Follow the Non-existent Jesus, Jesus Journal, April 2003.)

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