The Third Way
From the day of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force. (Mt 11:12)
The Gospel and other readings the lectionary gives us each Sunday are determined by committees of scholars and traditional usage. The Lectionary as we have it is always a work of love on the part of these dedicated people and the help of the Holy Spirit. But sometimes when a passage begins and ends with certain verses it can be helpful to see what the next verse (not chosen to be included in a particular reading) is. Such is the case with Mt 11:12 above which follows today’s passage Mt 11:2-11.
John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing was a kind of hinge between the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Jesus’ baptism by John and his ministry that followed. With Jesus’ ministry the kingdom of heaven took hold in this world, through Jesus’ person and his followers, but as the verse above states, from its very beginning this “kingdom has suffered violence and the violent have taken it by force.”
This is important for us. We are asked to believe that the kingdom is (already) here, but (not yet) in fullness. This is the mystery of Advent: We long for something that is already here, but hindered by violence perpetrated on the kingdom by the violent. (So sad that the “violent” may think they are working for peace and serving God with Sacred, therefore acceptable, violence.) All the violence blinds us from seeing the kingdom come among us- but it is here!
Jesus has come among us and we are his followers, joined to him by our baptism and the promises we renew regularly. When we think of our “spiritual” lives and growth, it is easy to think that much of our faith has to do with how close we feel to God and the forgiveness of our individual sins and failings. We can be surprised to discover that our faith includes much more than this: our faith calls forth in us a decision regarding our participation in violence in our human culture. The violence in the world and our participation in violence has everything to do with our faith in the Savior of the World! “World” is the key word here, not “me.”
We learn how to deal with violence from Jesus. Jesus never inflicted or condoned violence against anyone while on this earth. Jesus did not run from the suffering before him and he didn’t fight the victimizers. At the same time he didn’t accept this suffering passively. Jesus took what was called (by Walter Wink) The Third Way. The Third Way is a decision between choosing to run away or fight the violent with violence. The Third Way is an intentional choice to suffer violence done us (like Jesus did) for a higher good (at the very least- less violence because my response doesn’t add to violence).
Jesus’ followers help in turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks as Isaiah prophesied. Our weapons (bad term) are mercy and forgiveness. After 9/11 the kingdom of heaven could have taken deeper root than ever had we responded in mercy and forgiveness. Instead we responded with vengeance (aided by lies) and thousands upon thousands more died and millions continue to suffer.
The protagonist of today’s Gospel, John the Baptist, prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, but misunderstood what Jesus was about and the fact that Jesus wanted to end victimization by his coming. That’s why John’s disciples were sent to ask him: Are you the One to come or are we to wait for another? Jesus was not the One they expected or, to be honest, wanted. Jesus challenged their understanding of human culture, judgment, and use of violence. That’s why Jesus says in today’s Gospel: The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. In other words, the post-Easter followers of Jesus “got it” in a way that John the Baptist never did!
But do we really “get it?” Are we more like followers of John the Baptist than Jesus, looking for God to come in fiery judgment to destroy all the evildoers of the world? (And when necessary we will help before he gets here!) When Jesus talked of judgment it was always in terms of self-judgment, the fiery judgment our violence brings on ourselves by continuing to follow the world’s ways and not choosing God’s way by living in the world of Grace.
I’m hoping this Advent that the world will find a way to peace without violence, or, if not, the Savior will come quickly to save us from destroying ourselves. I hope we can live The Third Way of Jesus: not suffering violence passively, but choosing to respond to violence with mercy and forgiveness, actively resisting evil, in all its forms, non-violently as Jesus did.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.