I am not a major fan of science fiction, my preferred genre being murder mysteries. (And those should only have one body, preferably offstage.) Consequently I was not an avid follower of Star Trek. But I do have a memory of one episode of the show seen by chance while visiting someone’s home.
As usual, the crew of The Enterprise were busy going where no man has gone before, exploring the universe and opposing the dastardly Klingons. In this show The Enterprise has a brief battle with Klingons, and then pulls back to the area of a little known planet called Organia. Kirk and Spock are beamed down to offer the inhabitants of that world protection from the Klingons.
The two men find a simple agrarian society, without any class of wealth and power. But there is a council of Elders who meet to hear the proposal for a kind of mutual aid pact. Their reply is that they feel no need for protection, and do not want violent conflict on their planet. Spock tells Kirk that this is clearly a primitive culture that has never developed a politics of warfare.
As the show progresses, the Klingons arrive also, and it appears that there will be a show-down between the forces of good and evil. Still, the council of Organia repeat that they do not need protection, and do not want to be involved in impending violence. The when the battle begins, things become very strange as both the Klingons and the two from the Enterprise find that their weapons will not fire, and all parties withdraw.
Once again the Council approaches the two men to say that they did not want bloodshed, because they foresee a future in which the two sides become friends. Then the strange Council, and indeed the whole planet disappear from sight. Amazed, Spock revises his earlier estimate saying, “These people are actually from a very advanced civilization, which has evolved into a form of pure energy. They are far beyond us.”
It was quite a theological show, with a viewpoint completely at odds with American culture (whether anyone noticed that little detail or not.) For it stood directly against the age-old belief, which Walter Wink calls “The Myth of ‘Redemptive Violence’”. By this he meant our fond belief that when bad people take violent actions, they must be contained, if not wiped out, by violent counter-measures, which are to be seen as righteous. This, by the way, pretty much sums up the cowboy and Indian tv shows I watched in my childhood. Naturally, when our country uses violent means it is always on the side goodness and justice.
But in this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus presents, in his very life, God’s opposition to Redemptive Violence. Pilate confronts him with the accusation of the Temple leaders that he has proclaimed himself a king. Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
What does he mean by that? We often take this to mean that the Kingdom of God is about eternal life in heaven, not about a place in the usual sense of the word. But Professor David Lose, of Luther Seminary, contends that Jesus is asserting something much more fundamental about the Kingdom of God. He writes,“…were [Jesus] and his followers of this world, then naturally they would use the primary tool this world provides for establishing and keeping power: violence. But Jesus is not of this world and so Jesus will not defend himself through violence. He will not establish his claims by violence. Jesus will neither usher in God’s kingdom, nor make any followers by violence.” Which the church has forgotten multiple times over the millenia.
In this very different sense of the Kingship of Jesus, his reign is not about geopolitics., It is about relationships – his relationship with God, and that of his followers with him. In these relationships, violence is not a possible way of life. And when our fury threatens to silence this King by crucifixion, Jesus takes human violence fully into and onto himself. In and with him it is put to death. God meets violence with love and in that love Jesus is raised from the dead.
What a very different king, one who asks of his disciples that they stay connected with him and each other not by power or force, but within a relationship of love. There are certainly many who would characterize this as a response of weakness, where the first disciples did not fight for Jesus because they could not, or were afraid to do so.
But Martin Luther King Jr described God’s purposes like this: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
King was preaching on the way of the incarnate God who meets our myth of redemptive violence with sacrificial love, that gives everything. Martin Luther King did not avoid this path in his own life, as he himself was ultimately murdered while being in the wrong place for the wrong reason – marching for justice for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
I don’t know that we live in an unusually violent time, but we certainly hear all about it in our news media: the racist murder of nine worshippers at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charlotte; the anti-Semitic murders of eleven at Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh; repeated episodes of what is called “live fire” all over the country, in hospitals, restaurants, nightclubs, schools.
And in turn everyone talks about how we can keep ourselves safe. Teachers have been encouraged to train and arm themselves for their classrooms; in Texas pastors have entered their pulpits on Sundays, carrying guns. But if we belong with Jesus in his Kingdom, we need to counter the voices that urge yet more violent retribution.
So listen to his words at the end of this passage, when he tells Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. “Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?” But Jesus made no response to this, for he is himself the answer. He is the truth standing before Pilate, the truth which in reality is putting the Roman Official on trial rather than the reverse. He is the truth who calls us to account as well.
Are we ready to separate from the lies of power, wealth and force to listen instead to the One who is the Truth? Are we willing to divorce ourselves from the pervasive Myth of Redemptive Violence and enter into relationship with this King of God’s way of love? To make a truthful answer requires our deepest prayer and contemplation from one ordinary day to the next. May we listen carefully and find our way home to Holy Love.