Revelation 7: 9-17
John 10: 22-30
MESSAGE FROM THE PASTOR
Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. ...
The Judeans took up stones again to stone him.
- John 10: 23, 31
We hate to imagine places of worship becoming venues for violence.
This past Sunday morning, I was driving toward church, listening, as I often do, to the National Public Radio program Weekend Edition- Sunday.
The host, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, was presenting interviews with three religious leaders concerning violence and security measures at their houses of worship. A Christian pastor, Rev. Ronell Howard, of Christ United Methodist Church in Piscataway, N.J., offered the following thoughts.
“I think just how we blissfully go through life as a Christian church here in the United States, in most parts of the country not thinking a whole lot about safety, and now having to be confronted with it.
“I remember in one group meeting, one person saying that they had a member who offered to pay for armed security on Sunday mornings. And everyone was in complete angst around it. ‘Oh, what would that look like? And what would that mean? And should the church do it?’ And all of that. And I remember just saying, ‘Are you guys serious? Black churches have always had armed security.’ And they looked at me so shocked, like, ‘Wait- what?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, like, for as long as I've been in church, it has never been a given for black churches, that it wouldn't be bombed. We think about Alabama.
“It wouldn't be burned? We think about Louisiana.
“That someone might not come in during Bible study and shoot everyone save one person, right?’
“So with that being the Black experience, I think the Black church is a bit ahead of the curve on security. Whereas, in predominantly White spaces, it really comes as a saddening shock. I think the feeling in the room was this sense of loss of safety and security that the people in the room had always kind of counted on.”
At this point, I want to call attention to my translation of John 10:31, at the top of the column.
In the Gospel according to John, the author uses the Greek word Joudaioi over and over again to refer to the people who opposed Jesus, mostly in the area around Jerusalem. The word can be translated “Jews,” but it equally means “Judeans”— people from the territory called Judea, as opposed to Samaritans or Galileans. Throughout the New Testament, it is evident that Jesus and his followers, though in the religious sense “Jews,” were labeled as “Galileans” by the people who gave them trouble, especially around Jerusalem. Understand that Jerusalem is the ancient capital of Judea. Judeans, proud of being citizens of the Holy City area, looked down on Jews from anywhere else. In other words, they had an ethnic and regional chip on their shoulder: a lot like Yankees having an ‘attitude’ toward Southerners (or vice-versa), or like Whites being prejudiced toward Blacks or other people of color. Judeans in the New Testament frequently accused people from other places of being religiously impure. (Look at John 4:1-45 or 8:48, to name two among many examples)
So, according to John 10, Jesus the Jew from Galilee told the Judean Jews that he was in fact the Messiah, the Christ, One with God the Father. The Judean Jews accused him of “blaspheming”— slandering God— and they made moves to stone him and arrest him. Somehow— John doesn’t say how— Jesus escaped from their violence.
Two thousand years have passed, and today we have religious violence across different lines.
Weekend Edition- Sunday also interviewed Rabbi Toba Schaller in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“My community is feeling some fear and stress. And we're working really hard as a community to act from a place of love rather than a place of fear. We have had a sense for a long time that we were at risk because of hatred and violence against Jews and other minorities. It definitely changed after the attack in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue. And after that, our congregants got together and donated money to hire a chief of security for our congregation. ... But also, as Jews we believe in a concept, ‘mitzvah goreret mitzvah,’ that one deed of justice and love that God commands us to do perpetuates another, and that sins or acts of evil perpetuate more sins and more acts of evil and more negativity. So it really is a Jewish value for us to respond to events like this with loving kindness.”
May we Christians match them in grace.