The Cross as the Response to Evil

3446864853_7bca421a2b_o“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

“Learn war.”  That’s an interesting phrase.  Seems we have, all of us.

When I was little I just assumed that we would always be at war.  By the time I was old enough to be aware of what was going on we were in Vietnam.  When we lived in Alabama I remember hearing that our next door neighbor’s son was killed in Vietnam.  We would stay in Vietnam throughout most of my childhood; it was on the front page of the newspaper every day and on the news every night.  There were war shows on T.V and WWII movies in the theaters.

Then I went to school and learned American history, and it seemed that America just moved from one war to another with just little pauses in between:  the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam.  And when Vietnam ended and we were no longer at war, I learned about the Cold War. 

The Cold War?  You mean even when we weren’t at war, we were at war?

So you can understand as a kid I just assumed that we would always be at war, that peace was just a temporary lull between wars, an exception to the rule, the brief time when the audience clapped while the orchestra switched music and got ready to perform the next piece.

And when in Sunday School this verse from Isaiah was quoted about swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and nations not learning war anymore, I just figured that was some idealistic utopia that wouldn’t really happen except in heaven, when all the good people would gather together and there wouldn’t be any war anymore because all the bad people would be in hell. 

But on earth?  On earth we learn war, because there are lots of bad people out there, and until God kills all the bad people, we gotta learn war or else the bad people will kill all the good people.  That’s how one child growing up in the ‘60’s made sense of things. 

Is that a childish way of looking at things?

We don’t think of peace at this time of year, not when the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus is front and center on our calendars if not in our minds. 

We especially don’t think of peace when bad guys bomb airports and subways and kill innocent people.

We think war. We think revenge. We think about killing all the bad guys before they kill all the good guys.

Or building walls around all the good guys so that the bad guys can’t get to us.

Either way, it seems that we’ve learned war really well—really, really well.

Christ calls his followers, however, to learn peace.

But here’s the thing: peace is not something that can be learned in the absence of “all the bad people.”  Peace is something that can be learned only in the presence of enemies. 

Among all the things that the cross  teaches us is how to be people of peace in the presence of our enemies.  Jesus told Pilate, “If my kingdom was of this age, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.  But my kingdom is not of this age.”

Jesus didn’t come into Jerusalem with an army.  With an army, he would have died unless there was divine intervention, but God seems no longer interested in intervening in our bloodbaths.

As Jesus himself said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

Jesus challenged for forces of evil without an army, which made death a certainty.

Then came the divine intervention in the form of the resurrection.

So it’s a matter of when you want your divine intervention. You can raise an army and go into battle against evil and hope that divine intervention will keep you alive and lead you to victory, or you can battle against evil without an army, and trust that divine intervention will lead through death into resurrection.

The cross teaches us that there is a death that leads to more death, and there is a death that leads to resurrection and life—and peace. 

We need to learn the lesson of the cross, for it’s the only way we can learn peace.

Photo credit: jimforest via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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