In Part 5 of Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change Brian begins to look more specifically at the Security System and how Jesus’ message of the kingdom challenges how Christians relate to power and violence and systemic injustices in the world.
The question for the week is simply this: How can Christians participate in militarism of the West and remain consistent with the Sermon on the Mount vision of Jesus? Or, maybe a slightly different question, what justification is there for the follower of Jesus to participate in war and military efforts? The first question is more from a pacifist angle and the second from a just war angle.
We are, Brian says, called to join the “peace insurgency.” It is a call of repentance: “If we resituate ourselves in this new story, if we find identity, meaning, and purpose in this good news, we found ourselves beginning again, born again, facing a new start. As recomposed, resituated, de-deranged people, we can begin rebuilding our societal system, not as a suicide machine, but as a beloved community, the kind of garden city envisioned in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation 21:1-4)” (155).
Our context today is how religions and violence/bloodshed are joined at the hip. He speaks of Sam Harris having his eyes on something important — the violence in the OT and some passages in the Gospels seem violent… “In the twenty-first century, it is equally easy to imagine holy jihad fueled and funded by Islamist factions locked in a death match with holy crusade fueled and funded by powerful Christian and Jewish factions, factions who are empowered by the silence and passivity of their moderate and progressive counterparts” (158).
Jesus needs to be reassessed, and to do this Brian looks at Matthew 15:21-28, Matthew’s account of the Canaanite woman and Jesus. Brian rightly brings out the highly unusual use of the word “Canaannite,” which evokes ancient hostilities with Jews and their borders and their Land. Jesus at first rebuffs her and then embraces her as if to say that those ageless divisions and wars are now over; instead of conquering Canannites, this Jew will feed her. He then extends this to see the “seven baskets” left over at the feeding of 4000 evoking the 7 tribes Israel was to conquer in Deut 7:1-5. [I want to add that though I am not highly confident such interpretation is compelling, this view is both found in scholarship today and not at all unlikely. I just think it is hard to know “if” the number seven is symbolic and then “what” it might mean if it is.]
Jesus’ strategy is therefore [in this section of the book] spelled out: peace through nonviolent justice, forgiveness of enemies, reconciliation, and embrace and grace.
This passage “illustrates” rather than proves Brian’s form of pacifism [which is what I’m seeing as I read him]; it would be unfair to him to say “this doesn’t prove it.” What is fair is to see here a living example in Jesus’ life of how to deal with age-old divisions and tribal suspicion. Jesus’ strategy is to welcome the enemy, heal the enemy and their kids, and spread the contagion of peace, grace and reconciliation.
How many today are serious enough about such a strategy?