Calling A Thing What It Is

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY

Mark 11:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1 — 15:47

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’” Mark 15:8-13.

I have always held that one ought not preach on the Passion Narrative. The story of Jesus’ arrest, conviction and execution, as told in the four gospels, preaches itself. But for every rule there are exceptions and this year might be one of them. This year Holy Week unfolds under the shadow of a horrific mass killing of Asian women by a single white gunman. And this is only the most recent of many lower profile acts of violence against Asian Americans in recent months. Just as medieval Europeans blamed and persecuted Jews under the pretext that their poisoning of public waters brought on the Black Death, so also a significant number of Americans are convinced that Asian people are responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in this country. Some are giving vent to their irrational pandemic related fear and anger in acts of senseless violence.

We don’t have to look far to find the source for this recent spate of lethal animus. Though the Center for Disease Control and Prevention criticized the phrase “China virus” as inaccurate and potentially harmful in promoting racist associations between the virus and  people perceived to be Chinese or related to China, that has not stopped former President Trump and the Republican Party generally from using this and similar racist slurs in attempting to cast blame on China for the spread of Covid 19 in the United States.[1] The first time President Trump used the slur, “Chinese Virus,” was March 16, 2020. The following week saw an increase in anti-Asian hashtags and a rise in hate crimes. Indeed, though overall hate crimes in 2020 decreased by seven percent, those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent.[2] Everyone should be alarmed by our government’s incitement of violence against our fellow citizens. Those of us who identify as disciples of the one whose death was orchestrated by this very means should recognize in the victims of such violence the image of the Lord we serve. “Where I am,” says Jesus, “there will my servant be.” John 12:26.

Under the right circumstances and where it is politically expedient, it doesn’t take much to whip a mob into a frenzy of hatred. A mob is bigger than any of the individuals making it up, but it draws its strength from the deep wells of fear, anger and resentment living in the gut of each one. It has no memory nor any clear understanding of its own inner turmoil. A mob comes to life whenever someone finds a way to focus its rage on some person or group that can be blamed and punished for its members’ collective unhappiness. They who control the mob have the power to instigate insurrection, rioting and murder without ever getting their hands dirty. Jesus’ political enemies understood that. So does a certain American political party that believes staying in power requires feeding scapegoats to the lowest, meanest and most bigoted segment of our population, otherwise known as the “Trump base.” What happened to Jesus on Good Friday and what happened to the Jews in medieval “Christian” Europe is happening now to Asian Americans.

I submit that there is no neutral ground here. If you took offense at Donald Trump’s remark to the effect that there were “fine people” among the KKK, Nazis and Proud Boys protesting in Charlottesville, I frankly do not understand how you can insist that there are “fine people” in a political party that, at best, tolerates the scapegoating of Asian Americans for a virus induced epidemic. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther remarked that “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” I cannot think of a better time and place to call this repulsive and murderous Republican politics what it really is. I cannot think of a better time and place to make our stand with the Crucified victim of mob violence than on the Sunday of the Passion. I hope that every preacher in every church this coming Sunday proclaims Christ with an Asian face and rips the masks off all who stoke the murderous rage of those who would see him crucified yet again. Shame on us all if we remain silent.

Here is a poem by Carl Sandberg speaking to mob dynamics and the ways its destructive potential might be re-directed toward becoming a people. If that is to happen, there must be a voice to leading away from blind fear to understanding, from historical amnesia to remembrance.

I Am the People, the Mob

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Source: English for Students. Carl Sandburg (1878 – July 22, 1967) was a Swedish-American poet, biographer, journalist and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and one for a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg is widely regarded as a major figure in contemporary literature. At the age of thirteen Sandburg left school and began driving a milk wagon. Throughout his early years, he worked as a porter at the Union Hotel barbershop in Galesburg, Illinois, a bricklayer, a farm laborer in Kansas, a hotel servant in Denver, Colorado and a coal-heaver in Omaha. Sandburg began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biographies, novels, children’s literature and film reviews. He also collected and edited books of ballads and folklore. He spent most of his life in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan before moving to North Carolina. You can find out more about Carl Sandburg and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1] E.g. Republican Representative Chip Roy, who at a congressional hearing examining anti-Asian violence, defended anti-Asian slurs, blamed China for the spread of Covid-19 and added for good measure, “”We believe in justice. There are old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree,” Roy said at the hearing on Thursday. “We take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys.” Also, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

[2] See Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

2 thoughts on “Calling A Thing What It Is

  1. I am a regular reader and always look forward to your writing. There is a part of this tragedy I am so troubled by and can’t shake off. David French wrote of the dangers of the Christian purity movement but I see something even more frightening. This individual certainly appears have a sex addiction of some kind. Others have it as well, but don’t go on murderous rampages. I can’t help but think about the shame that was heaped on this individual by his Christian community. At least some of his treatment occurred at a Christian based program, with it being likely all treatment was Bible based. There certainly is plenty of scripture to select from if the purpose was to make him feel vile and unworthy. And now I hear the Pastor ended his membership in the church. What is this form of Christianity ? How can the Pastor and congregants believe in redemption in the face of how they failed this individual. How can they not question whether their unrelenting interpretation of scripture contributed to these tragic murders. We will never know if this would have occurred had he been a member of a very different church where his desperate need for clinical help was recognized and addressed.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Holly. Yes, mental illness is a huge contributing factor to violence and the church has been less than effective in dealing with it, particularly where it intersects with sexuality. I can think of countless persons who have been deeply injured by so called “repairative” therapy designed to change one’s sexual orientation. I don’t know what transpired with this young man or how he was treated. But I do know that many faith oriented approaches to sexual issues have been heavily freighted with shame and guilt.

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