Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 15: 1-2, 22-29; PS 67: 2-3, 5-6, 8; REV 21: 10-14, 22-23; JN 14: 23-29
It’s Memorial weekend already – the unofficial beginning of summer, 2019. As usual, it’s a day when our country celebrates war and its heroes. That’s simply the American way of commemorating every patriotic occasion.
Appropriately however, this weekend’s liturgy of the word introduces a note of dissent. It centralizes peace as the content of Jesus last will and testament. In so doing, it implicitly contrasts Jesus’ concept of peace with that of Rome or any empire for that matter. The Roman Tacitus described his country’s understanding with the famous aphorism: “They create a desert and call it peace.” For me, Tacitus’ description applies just as well to the United States.
With that in mind, it also seems appropriate to connect Memorial Day, the peace Jesus advocated and the presidential candidacy of Marianne Williamson. I say “appropriate” this time because Williamson is the only candidate in the crowded Democratic field who thematically centralizes the need for change of specifically spiritual consciousness about all things political – including matters of war and peace. Her attitude on those issues corresponds closely with that of Jesus as expressed in today’s Gospel reading.
Marianne Williamson and Peace
To begin with, Williamson is a harsh critic of the Pentagon and the policy of perpetual war into which our country has increasingly fallen since the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-’45) and especially since 9/11/01.
In fewer than 100 years, she points out, the real driving force behind United States military posture has become the interests of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and other defense contractors. That has Americans, for instance, buying one hundred B-21 stealth bombers each costing $550 million and each capable of carrying thermonuclear weapons. That’s $55 billion in total.
Such investment, Williamson says, is completely over-the-top. Why 100 planes of that type? At the very least, it all seems completely out-of-proportion to the danger posed by our perceived terrorist enemy. Terrorists belong to no particular state. Very often they are home-grown. In any case, their hit-and-run attacks cannot be effectively answered with wholesale bombing, much less with nuclear weapons. Williamson writes:
“America today is like the British Red Coats during the Revolutionary War – standing abreast in a straight line waiting for someone to yell ‘Fire!’ while American colonists were hiding behind trees like the early guerrilla fighters that they were. Our entire notion of national security is like something out of another century.”
Instead of such waste and without neglecting legitimate defense concerns, Williamson calls for effective recognition of the soul force of peace building. She wants established a US Department of Peace that would make peace-creation a central goal of national policy, both foreign and domestic. It would use resources like those now wasted on those B-21s to support diplomatic efforts with those currently villainized in order to justify purchase of overpriced weapons systems.
Peace building would reconstruct the cities that US policy has destroyed. It would support educational opportunities for children, expand economic prospects for women, and in general alleviate human suffering across the planet. “That would be the moral thing to do,” Williamson says. “That would be the loving thing to do. And that would be the smart thing to do.” In summary she says, “The best way to create a more peaceful world is to treat people with greater compassion.”
Jesus and Peace
Williamson’s approach to peace-building is in sync with Jesus last will and testament expressed in today’s liturgy of the word. There he says: My peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. Not as the world (meaning Rome) gives, do I give.”
Jesus words and ultimate fate remind us that Rome’s policies created terrorists no less predictably than our own country’s way of creating “peace.” It led the empire to identify Jesus as a terrorist and execute him accordingly.
Jesus, I’m sure, must have hated Rome. Like all his Jewish contemporaries, he must have despised Rome’s imperial presence in Palestine – especially since it was headed by a man who considered himself God, Savior, Lord, and Prince of Peace. Scholars remind us that empire was the most significant factor shaping Jesus’ life. We know for a fact that he opposed it vigorously – especially its local collaborators personified in the Jewish high priesthood of his day, along with the scribes, Pharisees and Jewish high court. However, his resistance was non-violent.
Yes, Jesus’ peace is not what the world calls peace. It’s not Roman peace which was imposed by means of war. Rome’s, like the Pentagon’s, was peace through victory – always supported by Roman religion. In fact, as scripture scholar John Dominic Crossan, puts it in God and Empire: Jesus against Rome then and now, the exact sequence was religion – war – victory – peace. Sound familiar?
By contrast, the peace Jesus bequeathed had nothing to do with Rome or empire in general. His peace is brought not by victory, but by justice – especially for the poor. His was not peace through victory, but peace through justice. As I noted last week, that point was made in the programmatic sermon the Master gave in Nazareth at the beginning of his public life. These are the words with which he described his very purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord in on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (LK 4: 17-19).
Jesus was about serving the poor, releasing the imprisoned, caring for the disabled, liberating the enslaved, and ending debt servitude. His peace had nothing to do with victory as the world understands it – as Rome understood it or as the United States does. The sequence of Jesus’ gift to the world was religion – nonviolence – justice – peace.
And that’s what Marianne Williamson’s national defense program is about as well. It entails a spiritual conversion that takes its cue as well from Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. It also takes heed of Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Williamson’s program would:
- Have our country live within its means
- Emphasize peace building rather than war-making
- Rather than bombs and drones, it would rain down rebuilt homes, schools, hospitals, factories, temples, mosques and churches on the enemies created by our imperial philosophy of peace through victory
And to those who say that all of that won’t work or that it’s totally unrealistic, Williamson is fond of responding, “And how’s that realism working out for you?” In fact, it’s creating more terrorists and mayhem while simultaneously destroying the planet.
We’ve got to try something different. And that means national spiritual conversion. It’s in that call for repentance, transformation and restorative justice that the campaigns of Jesus and Marianne Williamson coincide. And that coincidence has nothing to do with memorializing, much less glorifying our country’s ceaseless imperial wars.
(By the way, Marianne has not only achieved the 65,000 unique donors required for her to appear in the debates with other presidential candidates. As well, she has surpassed the minimum 1% support in 3 separate national polls. Nate Silver has identified her as a major candidate.)