23 Nov 2014
“‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’” (Matt. 24:34)
In the name …
With all the violence taking place in Jerusalem, a news outlet sent one of its reporters to the Holy City. The holiest site in the Holy City for Jews is the Wailing Wall, which is one of the ancient sustaining walls of the old Jerusalem Temple. There they found an elderly man swaying back and forth according to the Jewish prayer tradition, his forehead at times leaning right up against the wall itself. The reporter asked the man how long he had been praying at the wall. For nearly 40 years was his answer. The reporter then asked what he was praying for. His response was for peace in Jerusalem, whose name is based on the Hebrew word Shalom, which means peace. Next he was asked if he thought God had heard his prayers. To this question the old man answered, “Sometimes it feels like I’m only talking to a wall.” And we all know what that means. It’s a euphemism for not being heard. Now this isn’t an actual story. It’s a teaching story, like a parable, told to me this past week by a Jewish friend.
Peace seems almost unimaginable right now in Jerusalem and really throughout the Middle East. But sadly, it’s not because God isn’t listening to prayers for peace. Tragically, it’s because too many believers have turned fanatical and they think they hear the voice of God calling for vengeance, violence, murder and even savagery. Theirs is a God of uncompromising judgment who tolerates no dissent or difference. Forgiveness is replaced by punishment and cruelty. It’s not that the elderly man’s prayer for peace isn’t heard by God. It’s cherished by God. It’s that God has been hijacked by religious fanatics of all stripes. It hurts to say it, but God, at least the fanatics’ image of God, is no longer part of the solution. The fanatics’ God is the problem. Religion is making the problem even more horrifying than it would be if it were only political or geographical.
A real reporter interviewed a real man after the four rabbis were murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue this past week. The man is a philosophy professor at Hebrew University and he stated, “When you bring in the religious dimension, it absolutizes the conflict — you can divide land, you can divide security, but the sacred is indivisible.” (NYT, 11/19/14, A8) People can become fanatical and refuse to compromise when it comes to the sacred because they believe that’s what God wants. They see their single-mindedness as piety not insanity. They are not satisfied with the idea of enemies. Their opponents aren’t human; they’re devils hated by God. Their punishment is directed from heaven and will continue for all of eternity. When you start believing things like this, then it is your image of God that fuels the fires of hatred, savagery and destruction.
This is exactly why organized religions and people of faith need to be extremely cautious when we speak about judgment, and judgment is always the theme of the Last Sunday after Pentecost. Every year at as the church year concludes, our thoughts are drawn to the end-time. Every year we hear of the trauma and terror as creation comes to an end and Jesus returns. We are supposed to rejoice in the hope of being saved while the rest of sinful creation and sinners by the hundreds of millions are annihilated. This is the sort of message that fuels fanaticism. Some religious people enjoy the thought of God reasserting His absolute control over the earth and her people. They see the world as corrupt and getting ever worse, and they want God to set up His theocracy. They want to be rewarded as His saints and they want the sinners to finally get what’s coming to them. Again, this is the fuel of fanaticism. Some of these believers are so driven by this kind of talk that they can’t wait any longer for God to appear and do these things so they start without Him. They pass judgment in His name. They serve as executioner in His name. They establish the kingdom of God on earth even if God is nowhere to be seen. This is why we have to be so cautious when we speak about God’s judgment.
Religions are terrible at predicting the plans of God and you would think by now we would have realized this. The fanatics like to talk about an all-powerful God, then let that kind of God enforce His own judgment. To me, it’s an awfully weak God who has to rely on these kinds of people to do His work. Religions have predicted the end of the world forever. Even Christianity thought Jesus would be back in power and heavenly grandeur some 2,000 years ago. We read in today’s Gospel, “‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’” Well it did and the end still hasn’t come. It seems that every time things got bad, religion said God was coming back. I like Paul Harvey’s more sensible advice: “In times like these it helps to recall there have always been times like these.” Next week we start Advent. One of the messages of that season is that we never saw Jesus coming in poverty and humility. We wanted instead a triumphant and powerful Saviour. We never saw a crucified God either. Maybe it’s time for us to be more humble and let God be God because it seems we relish judgment more than He does.
I put the picture of Jesus’ hands next to the picture of the Second Coming on today’s song sheet. We need to remember that God is not schizophrenic. He revealed Himself in Jesus, the child born humbly, the teacher of peace and forgiveness, the crucified God. The Jesus of the end-time stories can’t contradict this real-life revelation. I can’t see Jesus damning millions or billions of people and destroying the creation He has lovingly given us. The two don’t mesh in my head or my soul. The judgment of Jesus is serious, but it’s in His hands not ours, His crucified hands. Let us be careful when we talk about God’s judgment because too often it’s our judgment spoken wrongly in the name of God, and only tragedy can come from that. Let us pray that fanaticism ends, and that we trust enough in God to let Him pass judgment as He will. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo