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God of Vengeance and Tears

God of Vengeance and tears

“Let me tell you; everyone who has will be given more; but if someone has nothing, even what he has will be taken away from him. But as for these enemies of mine, who didn’t want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in front of me.” Luke 19:26-27 These words of Jesus are disturbing in that they are the words of a character in a parable who clearly represents God. Many people in our Western world are revolted by the thought of a domineering, authoritative God who demands allegiance on the pains of torture and death. And rightly so. Who would want to serve a God like that? We might do it for the sake of saving our skins but we also might decide that even the temporary freedom that comes with defiance until the day the bigger power closes in, is worth the penalty. Many people in our Western world have taken this second approach, saying that they would rather burn in Hell (if there is one) than submit to a tyrannical deity. On the other hand, many other people who fear anarchy cling to a vision of a God who lays down the law and doesn’t let the bad guys win forever. We want stability and security, not an anything-goes cultural and moral chaos. We love the idea that God might eventually say “enough!” and simply destroy those who don’t follow the rules! It’s about time, we might think, now the rest of us can get on with enjoying life and not being troubled by those disobedient and trouble-making rebels. So what is Jesus saying about God as he wraps up this parable? Is Jesus saying that God will take vengeance on those who don’t want Him to become King? After all, the king in the parable says, “slaughter them in front of me” which sounds like someone gloating over a personal vengeance. I think we have to say that to some degree, the answer is “yes.” The scripture does say elsewhere “vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:17-19). Yet, as Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, He is embodying the return of God to Zion and Zion is not ready to receive Him. On the contrary, they are ready to kill Him because He is not what they expected nor wanted. What is Jesus’/God’s response to this rejection? Is it anger? Does He threaten? No, it is weeping and warning. Not a warning about what Jesus Himself would do but a warning about the direction the nation has taken for themselves, Jesus weeps His way into Jerusalem. And when the God of Israel finally returns to the Temple as the prophets declared He would, He announces judgment on it and predicts its utter destruction. But again, this doesn’t turn into anger but grief and for more than one reason. Jesus is grieved because He loves Israel and doesn’t wish for her to suffer. But Jesus is also grieved because with every denouncement of the ruling class in Jerusalem, with every warning of coming destruction, Jesus knows that He is riding on ahead, down the road of history to take on Himself the judgment that He is predicting will come on the city and the people of Israel and Jerusalem. Jesus is the one who will be beaten, thrown outside the city and brutally crucified as a would-be deliverer of Israel. Jesus had not advocated violent revolution, neither against Rome nor against the ruling class of Jews in Jerusalem ( Remember that Peter in the Garden does not attack a Roman soldier but “the servant of the high priest”). When Peter attacks the High Priest's servant and cuts off his ear, Jesus insists that Peter puts his sword away. Perhaps Peter thought that this was the moment to “slaughter in (the King’s) presence, those who didn’t want (Jesus) to be King”? But Jesus emphatically says “no!” to this assumption. Jesus heals the man injured by Peter and then gives Himself over to the assailants without any more resistance than speaking the truth about the inconsistency and injustice of his assailants. Is this because Jesus is soft and doesn’t believe in the force of arms? What about the parable? What about vengeance on those who didn’t want Jesus to be king?! The vengeance will come. But it will not come in the form of the vindictiveness of an angry God. Rather, it will come in the form of Israel reaping what she sowed and Jesus weeping because they would not repent. Jesus warned that those who take up the sword will also perish by the sword. All that the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to do (if they didn’t have a "live and let live" compromise with Rome) was to use the same kind of power that Rome used against itself. They wanted the kind of violence that Peter was ready to use in the Garden. Jesus was opposed to that kind of violence, not because He is soft but because He knew it would not work. It would not bring God's restorative justice. That kind of violence only breeds more violence. Jesus has come to heal the world, not to simply to put a new tyrant on the top. Jesus resists Peter’s violence because the enemy that Israel was facing (and the rest of the world in fact) was much bigger and more sinister than Rome. Jesus came to confront “the Satan”. The God-hating accuser who entered Judas in order to betray Jesus. Judas, it seems, thought that by having Jesus arrested, he could force Jesus’ hand and cause Him to use force to defend Himself. But Jesus doesn’t do it. The vengeance Jesus warned about would come about simply as a result of God abandoning Israel to the fate that she was courting for herself. This could also be said for Rome and any nation or individual that rejects Jesus. The end result is that you are not rescued from death. Death is not something God desires for us. It is something we have been born into and something we then collude with and bring on ourselves. Jesus came to rescue the world from death. If we don’t want that Rescue, we will remain in death and this will be God’s vengeance. This is not vindictiveness, this is justice. And Jesus/God weeps over those who must suffer the consequences. "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13

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