Agitators are dangerous. They can insight fear and frustration, and often violence, with or without knowing it. Last Saturday I participated in a counter-rally calling out presidential frontrunner Donal Trump for his racist, misogynistic, and down-right hateful rhetoric. We were there to agitate, but also raise the flag on the language coming from a person who is vying for one of the most powerful positions in the world. Prior to Saturday, opposing Donald Trump’s run for the presidency moved, for me and many others, from a political thing to a moral one. Our country is already deeply divided, and he is simply pushing the division further. He is an agitator who is exploiting the fears of many for what I perceive as his own gain. Those of us protesting sought to be agitators on the side of anti-fear and pro-hope.
But here’s something: Jesus was an agitator. In John’s gospel, written nearly 100 years after Jesus’ execution, the leadership is interpreted as not only being afraid of losing their own positions of power, but also afraid that “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our people.” In other words, they were collaborating with the brutal Roman empire in order to save their own people from getting killed! I totally get that. Though, I’m sure there was a fair amount of self-preservation in their motivation as well.
Jesus and his followers, on the other hand, saw the leadership’s collaboration as a capitulation to and participation in the severe oppression of the Jewish people, under which people were starving to death (physically as well as emotionally and spiritually). In my reading of the gospels, I do not believe Jesus thought he could overthrow the Roman occupiers. But I do believe he was trying to encourage the people to subversively oppose the empire in ways the empire would have trouble opposing—killing them with kindness, so-to-speak. Jesus’ final execution, it would seem, was not due to what he did or said, but the size of the crowd that was digesting his subversive counter-message to the violence of the empire and injustice of the Jewish leadership. His message promoting a life of love and hope, even in the midst of oppression, was just too much for the system to bear.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Fighting violence with violence only leads to more violence. But love breaks that cycle. Agitating the powers that be, the forces of violence, with love and seeking understanding exposes the immorality of their way of being, it exposes their insecurity, and invites, over time, an opportunity to seek deeper understanding. In every case, it has happened. However, over time the power of love lost its allure and the powers of greed and hate seeped in again. Christians are called to be the constant agitators with love, continuously inviting people to the table of fellowship and hope. It is not a “once and for all,” but a “forever and ever, amen” way of life.
May this Holy Thursday invite us into a deeper meaning of the way of love. May Good Friday invite us to consider our participation in the status quo of domination and oppression. May Holy Saturday challenge us in our despair. And may Easter Sunday encourage us in our holy agitation. See you in Church!