As modern people it’s easy to buy into the illusion that we are so evolved, cultured; more advanced than we were even a couple decades ago, much less a couple centuries ago. We are a forward-looking culture who would rather yield power to the cleverness of the young than confess our mistakes and learn from history.
But the world of ancient Israel is not too different from our own.
If there were any doubt, we were gravely reminded of this proximity to history on October 7, when Hamas brutally murdered some 1,200 Israeli civilians…and the campaign of violence and death to Palestinian civilians in Gaza that followed.
The story of Deborah, in this week’s passage from Judges, is not too dissimilar from the current conflict in Gaza. It’s not too much of a stretch, for example, to imagine the story of Deborah appearing in the New York Times:
“Prophetess Deborah Leads Israel to Victory Against Canaanites, Unveils Divine Intervention in the Face of Oppression”
The modes of communication have changed. The technologies of war have changed. But we still inhabit a world that is largely animated by the logic of violence. We still live in a world that understands violence as the mechanism to deliver security and peace.
The prevailing logic, now as it was for ancient Israel, is that the world is zero sum: in order for us to be the “haves” there must be “have-nots” whom we can either placate with the breadcrumbs of our excesses or subjugate and destroy if they try to take what is ours.
We live in a world animated by the logic of scarcity, not abundance. And in this world, violence is necessary.
Even more than this: violence, and specifically war, gives us a reason for being. See below the quote from Chris Hedges, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning:
“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble.”
In Judges, God condemns Israel into the hands of its oppressors for being disobedient and then delivers Israel into a time of peace and prosperity by defeating the Canaanite army. This passage from Judges echos a familiar story: Israel is persecuted by violence and then delivered by violence, persecuted then delivered. Israelites live from one generation to another in this back and forth of violence.
This is the world that Jesus enters.
As a Jew, as a member of the tribe of Israel, Jesus has come to fulfill the prophets who have proclaimed the deliverance of Israel to a time of peace.
Jesus has come to introduce a new way of being in the world. Jesus has come to inaugurate The Peaceable Kingdom.
Christ, the Messiah, upends the logic of violence.
Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek.
Jesus tells his disciples that the last shall be first and that the meek will inherit the earth.
Ultimately, on the cross, Jesus shows us how to break the cycle of violence. He does not leverage his power and the devotion of his followers to wage a violent uprising; instead, he carries his cross. He is crucified. And he shows us that to find eternal life we must be willing to let go of the possessions of this world and the impulse to hoard them and defend them.
Following Jesus means laying down the sword, the rifle, the drone.
To live in the Peaceable Kingdom of Jesus means living in such a way that does not depend on violence for protection or security. We do not look to violence to solve our problems.
We do not find our meaning, purpose in war.
We are willing to die before we are willing to kill others.
Citizenship in the Peaceable Kingdom is humble–peasantly. In the Peaceable Kingdom, we’re not striving to accumulate more but engaged in the practice of being content with what we have.
“The Want of Peace” – by Wendell Berry
All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.
I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.
I am proud, especially during these times, to be part of a Mennonite tradition that has at the center of its identity a commitment to peace and pacifism. I am proud to be part of a tradition where there are many who had the courage to die as martyrs for these convictions, and a church who sends missionaries across the world through MCC to build a better world with those on the margins. This is the church and the tradition we are committing Teague and all of our children to.
But I also recognize the hypocrisy of someone like me talking about the pain of Israel or the plight of Palestinians. It is easy for me to talk about peace. I’m an American. I am insulated from the atrocities of war. I am also white, male, straight–you name it. I can preach about peace as an ideal and I realize how patronizing that can sound. I haven’t felt the same loneliness, the same pain.
And it is also tempting for me to preach about Jesus as someone who supplants, replaces the story of Israel.
The story of the Gospel is not linear. Our story is the story of Israel. We have been grafted into it. As such, I enter into this conversation with humility. The past few weeks I have been listening and learning from Palestinian voices and Jewish voices.
End with the words of Rabbi Sharon Brous interview on The Ezra Klein Show.
“Every person of faith is engaging in an act of interpretation and choosing what texts to prioritize and how to read and interpret those texts. And my choice is to read that the first and most important thing that we learn about human beings in the beginning of the Book of Genesis is that all human beings are created B’tzelem Elohim, “in God’s own image.”
And the way that our rabbis read that 2,000 years ago was that every single person has infinite worth, that all people are fundamentally equal, and that every single human life has something unique to contribute to this world. That is the core premise, the starting point for my faith and for my religious life.”
This to me reverberates with the truth of the Gospel, the way of Peaceable Kingdom.