A Reflection on Terrorism

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Copyright 1996 The Cincinnati Enquirer

A sermonic reflection on Luke 13:1-9

Ordinary citizens are not terrorists, are we?  We didn’t bring down the World Trade Center, kill and maim marathon runners and spectators at the Boston Marathon, or kill innocent co-workers in San Bernadino. The Rev. Maurice McCrackin answered that we are and we have, for reasons we’ll explain later.

Mac was informed by today’s Gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9) where Jesus addresses terrorism and urges his hearers to turn. “Unless you all repent, you will all … perish.”

It happens when some people inform Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate has mingled with their sacrifices.” The speakers seem to be contrasting the Galileans – known for their armed resistance to Roman rule, i.e. guerilla warfare – and the Jerusalemites.
Remember, Jesus himself is a Galilean!

The non-Galileans are putting him to the test. As he so often does so ably, Jesus, the Galilean Jewish rabbi, begins strangely by appearing to agree with their anti-Galilean prejudice. He asks whether these violent Galileans were any different from the rest of the Galileans. One can almost hear the applause from the more sophisticated, non-terroristic Jerusalemites.

Then he quickly shifts their attention to a scene in Jerusalem. He asks them if the eighteen saboteurs “upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, do you think they were worse sinners than all others in Jerusalem?”

“No,” he says, “but unless you (plural) repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Sometimes reading a familiar text in a form much closer to the original context of Jesus’ linguistic-religious-cultural-political-economic context serves to awaken us to hear it differently.

Now … there were some present reporting to Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach about the men of the Galil whose blood Pilate mixed with their zevakhim (sacrifices).

And, in reply, Moshiach said, Do you think that these men of the Galil were greater chote’im (sinners) than all others of the Galil, because they suffered this shud (misfortune)?

Lo (no), I say, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
Or do you think that those shmonah asar (eighteen) upon whom the migdal (tower) in Shiloach fell and killed them, do you think that they were greater chote’im (sinners) than all the Bnei Adam living in Yerushalayim?

Lo (no), I tell you, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.
And Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach was speaking this mashal. A certain man had an etz te’enah (fig tree) which had been planted in his kerem, and he came seeking pri (fruit) on it, and he did not find any. [YESHAYAH 5:2; YIRMEYAH 8:13]

So he said to the keeper of the kerem, Hinei shalosh shanim (three years) I come seeking pri on this etz te’enah (fig tree) and I do not find any. Therefore, cut it down! Why is it even using up the adamah (ground)?

But in reply he says to him, Adoni, leave it also this year, until I may dig around it and may throw fertilizer [dung] on it,

And if indeed it produces pri in the future, tov me’od (very well); otherwise, you will cut down it [Ro 11:23].

The Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB) Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011 by Artists for Israel International.

The ‘mashal’ (a familiar proverb or parable) he re-interprets is already part of his and his hearers’ self-understanding from Isaiah 5:2 and Jeremiah 8:13:

Jesus is speaking about collective social life – politics, economics, religion, resistance, keeping the faith – a whole society, a culture, a nation. He is calling for thorough-going societal transformation – turning from blaming others (the Galileans) to looking in the mirror to see the log that is in every eye: the underlying pervasive violence in our way of being in the world, taking up “ground” on this beautiful planet.

In Hebrew Scripture the human species, Adam, is derived from Adamah – earth, soil, dirt, ground. Humans, created in the image of God,  are to produce sweet figs. But the Owner of the vineyard with the barren fig tree shows two traits: deep disappointment – “Why is it even using up the ground?” – and an over-riding patience that allows it more time to produce the sweet figs it was intended to bring forth from the dirt (adamah).

As I look out the window this morning to the world outside, I feel a tiny shiver of God’s frustration and long-suffering. I read the paper, read my emails, look in the mirror, and take my morning shower wondering what it will take before we see the violence of terrorists in ourselves.

The Rev. Maurice McCrackin is the one soul I know who really dared to live what Rabbi Jesus preached about teshuvah (repentance).  Mac was Pastor of St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church, by far the poorest church in the poorest section of Cincinnati, until he was removed. But it wasn’t his daily work among the poor that brought him attention. Mac was a war tax resister. He refused to pay federal taxes -not because he didn’t believe in taxes. He did! In the name of crucified Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Mac refused to join in funding a “defense” budget that was, in fact, a war budget that supported state-sponsored international terrorism. “Ordinary citizens aren’t terrorists, are we?” Mac said we are, and, in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace,  and he was carried off to jail again and again and again. “To give financial support to war while at the same time preaching against it is, to me, no longer a tenable position.” His spirit was as free as anyone I’ve ever known.

Now … there were some present reporting to Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach about the men of the Galil whose blood Pilate mixed with their zevakhim (sacrifices).

And, in reply, Moshiach said, Do you think that these men of the Galil were greater chote’im (sinners) than all others of the Galil, because they suffered this shud (misfortune)?

Lo (no), I say, but unless you make teshuva, you will all likewise perish.

How shall we make teshuvah?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2016

6 thoughts on “A Reflection on Terrorism

  1. I got as far as imagining what I would need to do to owe no taxes (this was under Bush 2). I was both sad and guilt-ridden that I wasn’t willing to do that. I factored in what it would do to Barb (BJ) and I mentally put a lot of weight on that, and I will never know if that was just an excuse. Now it certainly is not an excuse — her IBM will eventually weaken her and she will need me and my half of our nest egg, but back then we had no idea. I’m afraid I am not brave enough; haven’t been all my life. (I’ve been guilty in my own court ever since I didn’t go on the bus from Oberlin to demonstrate for civil/human rights during spring break. I said to myself, ‘I need to practice and study,’ and I did. But the kids who went also needed the same things, but they had the guts to go. I didn’t. That’s a long guilt — about 53 years.)

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    • Carolyn, You’ve always been a conscientious soul. Perhaps some of God’s children are called more to art and hands-on care for a sister (or for aging parents, as you and BJ did so very conscientiously, traveling every weekend to and from Cornwall Manor) than to protest. Maybe it’s time to put “guilty in your own court” in more gracious hands than yours? Just a thought from an old friend who’s in the same court.

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