•Genesis 9: 8-15 * 1 Peter 3: 18-22 * Mark 1: 12-15•
Scripture Readings: First Sunday in Lent
I am not only astounded but deeply disturbed by the violence still being done to people by people in this 21st century. It may not be more intense or personal than the violence of previous centuries. Yet I remain naive enough to think we have become more fully human. Many folks like myself, I presume this includes you, strongly object to the violence we do to our so-called “enemies” with guns, bombs, drones and missiles. Then suddenly the media confronts us with the barbaric killing of a Jordanian air force pilot by the self-proclaimed “Islamic State.” “ISIS” burned him alive in an iron cage and as he screamed in pain and agony they made sport of his death.
I do not mention that gruesome act to shock you. The King of Jordan promised vengeance.
Almost immediately, the Jordanian government executed two accused “terrorists.” Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye and the entire world will be blind.” Most likely the violence will escalate.
In recent weeks I have heard various arguments for and against a proposal to re-institute military conscription in our country. We have been engaged in a “war against terrorism” for thirteen years. If we continue that war, as seems likely, our government may restore universal conscription to provide more bodies for the military. That may or may not be a good thing.
If universal conscription is restored, I will be very vocal insisting the only individuals granted an exemption would be those committed to a nonviolent life based on sincere religious and moral convictions. Even “C-O’s” would be required to engage in community service for the same number of years and the same pay as those inducted into the military.
That may seem an odd introduction to a homily on this first Sunday of Lent. I think such a realistic introduction can help us hear our text from the gospel of Mark in a more authentic manner.
After briefly introducing Jesus, Mark provides a descriptive overview or summary of his life and work. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” It was not a personal decision. “He was among wild beasts and tempted by Satan.” “Wild beasts” and “Satan” symbolize all that is evil; all the violence and death in our world. “The angels waited on him.” “Angels” symbolize the best things in creation; all that is good and life-giving.
In this text Mark is telling us that from the beginning of his public ministry of Jesus was engaged in a struggle to overcome violence and death, and form a healthy global community. After returning to Galilee he immediately began proclaiming that “the kingdom of God” – “God’s new reality” is emerging. He called his peers to “repent,” meaning change the way you think and behave so you are in sync with that “new reality.”
Mark makes it clear that from the beginning, Jesus engaged violence, human suffering and death. His message of nonviolence and his life of nonviolent love stand before us still today when an enemy is burned alive in a cage and our drones are perceived by others as terrorism.
We face a dilemma. Many of our peers, some of your children, enter the military. Some enlist as mercenaries; some for noble purpose. Each is responsible for self. The dilemma we face is that we who follow the non-violent Jesus cannot in conscience join them. We cannot for any noble reason embrace or be involved in violence of any sort. Quite simply, when we claim the name Christian we are committed to think and behave in sync with “God’s new reality” — to be nonviolent people in a violent world. There are many ways for us to serve the larger community and be responsible citizens. For us, the military is not an option.
The brutal and savage behavior of “ISIS” and the response of Jordan puts us on alert. Our nation may be engaged in war for many more years. If so, the need for more personnel in the military may lead to the restoration of universal conscription in our country. I am hoping all of us in the faith community will have the courage to remain in sync with “God’s new reality.”