It’s Holy Week, and I’ve got violence on my mind—not because of any intent to engage in it, but from an overabundance of it around me.
The synoptic gospels tell us that during this week before his death, Jesus resorts to violence in overturning the business tables of the moneychangers and the animal sellers at the Temple in Jerusalem. The annual Temple tax could only be made in Tyrian shekels, so enterprising people set up shop to convert other coinage into shekels acceptable in the Temple. Birds and other animals were also sold for required sacrifices in the Temple (such as the “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” that Mary and Joseph offered after the birth of Jesus). This focus on business clearly frustrated Jesus and he resorted to violence to make his point.
Putin has also resorted to horrendous amounts of violence in Ukraine, theoretically at least partially on religious grounds. We keep learning more and more about his blatant disregard for human life. While I will do my best to continue praying for him, during this Holy Week I am intentionally praying for all the powerless and innocent victims of his senseless butchery.
Months ago, in one of our antiracism discussion group meetings, one faithful member made the statement that I used as the title for this blog post: “Violence is the only recourse of the exhausted mind.” This idea has stuck with me. As I ponder the increasing rates of gun violence and suicide in America since the COVID-19 pandemic, I can see the connection. As I recall the number of times over the centuries that oppressed people have risen up in rebellion against their oppressors, it makes sense to me.
Yet, Jesus’ message was almost entirely nonviolent. He taught his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “walk the second mile.” It was at the very end of his ministry, perhaps when he was approaching the end of the road and anticipating the brutal culmination of his mission, that he briefly turned to violence. Perhaps it was exhaustion. Perhaps it was frustration. There may have been other elements in the mix that we will never know.
What’s important for me is recognizing that all humans have a tendency toward violence when we are depleted and seem to have exhausted other options and avenues. As those of us who are Christian enter this Holy Week and walk once again with Jesus toward his crucifixion, may we remain firmly rooted and grounded in the promise of resurrection and trust the God who sees and loves more than we can possibly imagine.
May that perspective give you hope even when the situation seems hopeless. Eastertide is coming, one way or another, in every aspect of our lives—whether we can glimpse or imagine it or not.