There they are, two crestfallen disciples after Jesus' horrific torture and execution. Fearful and grief-stricken, they're clearing out of Jerusalem and drifting toward Emmaus, none of which should bring the reader any measure of surprise. But then the story takes a turn. Jesus (his identity veiled) sidles up to the two and asks, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stop and turn. "Are you the only person in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened in these last days?" The risen Jesus then asks one of the most astonishing questions of the Bible: "What things?"
On the Road to Peace
On the Road to Peace is a column on nonviolence from Jesuit Fr. John Dear, a peace activist and the author of more than 20 books.
It was six o'clock on April 5,1968, a Friday morning. My mother came into my room, shook me awake and said, "John, Martin Luther King has been killed. You have to get up." I was eight years old.
That weekend 40 years ago, the networks broadcast his story and little else. And all of us, my parents and brothers, took in all the reports about his life and work and campaigns to abolish racism, poverty and war. Over and over they played his famous speeches; they discussed his vision of nonviolence.
After pondering the arrest, trial, torture and execution of Jesus this past Holy Week, and the ongoing crucifixion of Christ in the world's poor, in the people of Iraq, in our torture chambers, death rows and nuclear silos, I find the Easter texts announcing the resurrection of the nonviolent Jesus full of amazing hope and boundless new energy. In particular, I love that beautiful sentence from John 21, describing one of those first Easter encounters, a kind of Zen scene of perfect mindfulness that opens up new peace and life within us: "There on the shore stood Jesus, and it was morning."
Last week, after lectures at the Thomas Merton Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and in Victoria and Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, I caught the early morning ferry back to Tsawwassen and Vancouver. That trip is one of the most magical rides in the world. I left the Sydney port at dark and sailed the nearly two hours past the green forests of the Swartz Bay islands, beside seals, otters, dolphins and countless gulls. In the morning twilight I could see the distant, majestic, snow-covered Rockies. There, alone on the ship's top deck, amidst the healing peace of the natural world, I pondered the ancient invitation of Holy Week: to enter the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.
The story of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, a story of death and despair, life and hope, not only climaxes John's Gospel (11:1-45, from last Sunday) before the last supper and death of Jesus, it sums up the work of God in the world -- to liberate humanity from the culture of death and call us forth into the new life of nonviolent love and resurrection peace.
John's Gospel, the supposedly most "spiritual" one, is full of death threats and assassination attempts, such as the end of chapter 8, where the religious authorities pick up stones to kill the nonviolent Jesus. He barely escapes, but gets excommunicated, kicked out of the Temple. It's in this context, this life and death struggle, that Jesus heals a blind man in one of the most astonishing episodes of healing vision, revolutionary spirituality and political discipleship in the New Testament (from Sunday's Gospel, John 9:1-41).
The woman at the well, from this past Sunday's Gospel (John 4:5-42) is the last person on earth you'd expect Jesus to open up and reveal himself to. Not only is she a woman and an outcast, she's a Samaritan -- the hated enemy -- yet Jesus engages her in spiritual conversation, and she surprisingly takes him seriously, draws him out, and lets him teach her. He tells her what he has told no one else: that he is the holy Christ. She, not St. Paul, then becomes the first apostle to the Gentiles She must have been remarkable and no doubt can teach us a thing or two about the peacemaking Christ and the spiritual life.
"Can you be a good Catholic and support war?" That was the question put to me last week by CNN's anchorwoman Soledad O'Brien in front of a thousand people at Marquette University's annual "Faith Doing Justice" Mission Week. What could I say? I gave the only honest answer I could think of: "No."
"If you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread, jump off that building, rule the world, worship the false gods of war and greed." The Lenten journey of Gospel nonviolence begins in the desert where Jesus fasts for 40 days, hears these inner temptations to violence, and renounces them in favor of the God of peace, God's word and God's way of nonviolence (Mt. 4:1-11). In this struggle, the Gospel encourages us to renounce our own inner violence so we can follow Jesus in steadfast nonviolence to our own Jerusalems and the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire.
The 40 days of Lent invite us deeper into the journey of nonviolence, to walk more closely with Jesus to the cross of nonviolent resistance to empire and suffering love for humanity. As we begin this year's holy season of Lent, I hear the Ash Wednesday blessing, "Repent of the sin of war and believe the Gospel of Peace" (my translation), as a call to renounce the violence within us and around us, breathe again the new life of nonviolence, surrender ourselves to God's reign of peace, and walk forward with Jesus on the road to peace.