Editor’s Note: The massacre in Tucson has prompted soul-searching among Americans, reflecting on the nation’s angry political rhetoric and the country’s easy recourse to violence.
However, that soul-searching should go even deeper, says the Rev. Howard Bess, back to the early distortion of Jesus’s teachings, messages of peace and justice that were twisted to justify wealthy churches embracing violence and power:
What happened in Tucson is not new to American life. It happens every day across the country. Indeed, murders using guns are so common that little note is taken until a high-profile person is the target or the numbers of dead are shockingly high.
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But that attitude was never part of Jesus’s message. Violence cannot be found anywhere in the recorded teachings from the life of Jesus.
When we read the gospels that carry the names of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we meet a very Jewish young man who was determined to understand and live out Torah, the will and law of God. He reduced the law of God to two specific commitments: We are to love God wholeheartedly and passionately. We are to love those around us as though they were a part of our own families.
In coming to that conclusion, Jesus drew heavily from a minority of Old Testament writers who had rejected violence in all its forms. His interest was in being the very best servant of God in the Jewish tradition. His best picture of the God he served was that of a loving father.
Peace and non-violence were always part of Jesus’s concerns. It is reported in the Luke gospel that Jesus looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept, “If only you knew the ways of peace.”