John's Gospel, the supposedly most "spiritual" one, is full of death threats and assassination attempts, such as the end of chapter 8, where the religious authorities pick up stones to kill the nonviolent Jesus. He barely escapes, but gets excommunicated, kicked out of the Temple. It's in this context, this life and death struggle, that Jesus heals a blind man in one of the most astonishing episodes of healing vision, revolutionary spirituality and political discipleship in the New Testament (from Sunday's Gospel, John 9:1-41).
On the Road to Peace
The woman at the well, from this past Sunday's Gospel (John 4:5-42) is the last person on earth you'd expect Jesus to open up and reveal himself to. Not only is she a woman and an outcast, she's a Samaritan -- the hated enemy -- yet Jesus engages her in spiritual conversation, and she surprisingly takes him seriously, draws him out, and lets him teach her. He tells her what he has told no one else: that he is the holy Christ. She, not St. Paul, then becomes the first apostle to the Gentiles She must have been remarkable and no doubt can teach us a thing or two about the peacemaking Christ and the spiritual life.
"Can you be a good Catholic and support war?" That was the question put to me last week by CNN's anchorwoman Soledad O'Brien in front of a thousand people at Marquette University's annual "Faith Doing Justice" Mission Week. What could I say? I gave the only honest answer I could think of: "No."
"If you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread, jump off that building, rule the world, worship the false gods of war and greed." The Lenten journey of Gospel nonviolence begins in the desert where Jesus fasts for 40 days, hears these inner temptations to violence, and renounces them in favor of the God of peace, God's word and God's way of nonviolence (Mt. 4:1-11). In this struggle, the Gospel encourages us to renounce our own inner violence so we can follow Jesus in steadfast nonviolence to our own Jerusalems and the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire.
The 40 days of Lent invite us deeper into the journey of nonviolence, to walk more closely with Jesus to the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire and suffering love for humanity. As we begin this year's holy season of Lent, I hear the Ash Wednesday blessing, "Repent of the sin of war and believe the Gospel of Peace" (my translation), as a call to renounce the violence within us and around us, breathe again the new life of nonviolence, surrender ourselves to God's reign of peace, and walk forward with Jesus on the road to peace.
"You are a renegade priest and a renegade citizen. Many people think you're a hero of nonviolence, but you're a phony. You're a fraud. You are a person of violence because you used a hammer on one of our nuclear weapons! You're a coward. You're afraid. You are no Gandhi. I will not join your cause, but I will not make a martyr out of you so that the world thinks you are the heir of Gandhi."
It’s a powerful experience to stand before a judge and be sentenced to jail for saying no to war, injustice and nuclear weapons, something I highly recommend for all followers of the nonviolent Jesus. It really helps clarify one’s discipleship, one’s citizenship in God’s reign of peace, one’s faith, hope and love. In these days of war, genocide, nuclear weapons, poverty, executions, abortion, torture, global warming, and violence of every description, it’s a grace to be in trouble with the empire for practicing nonviolence, for daring to offer a word of peace, for serving the God of peace.
In the months before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, as he planned the "Poor People's Campaign" and spoke out against the U.S. war in Vietnam, he plunged into despair. He spent his last birthday, 40 years ago this week, in staff meetings, trying to convince them why they had to bring disenfranchised, low-income people to Washington, D.C. and shut it down.
Last fall, when I stood trial for our Santa Fe antiwar witness, I was asked about my mission as a Jesuit priest. I testified under oath that our job was to "save souls, end wars, liberate the poor from poverty, and welcome God's reign of justice and peace as disciples, friends and companions of Jesus." "Where does it say that?" the judge interrupted. "In the documents of the Society of Jesus, General Congregations 31, 32, 33 and 34," I answered. He looked at me with stunned disbelief. I'm just trying to fulfill my job description, I explained.
Thank you, God of peace, for announcing the coming of peace on earth and for coming among us to make peace. Thank you for siding with the homeless, the refugee, the marginalized, the immigrant, the outsider, the disenfranchised, the imprisoned, the enemy. Thank you for being good news for the poor and the oppressed.