Photo Credit: NBC Philadelphia
By Aaron Gaglia (@GagliaAC)
“Every time we gather [for Communion], we gather around a victim of violence who had wounds to show it. And yet triumphed over violence without mirroring it. But triumphed over hatred with love,” preached Philadelphia urban activist and author Shane Claiborne in a chapel service at United Methodist-affiliated Duke University.
On April 7, Claiborne gave a sermon entitled, “Wounded Healers” in Durham, NC.
Building off the Gospel reading of the day, Claiborne focused on Jesus’ wounds and his identity as suffering Messiah with scars to show for it.
Pitting the idea of Jesus as a sufferer against “triumphalist militant” ideas of Jesus, Claiborne quoted Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll ridiculing the “hippie” Jesus of our day and lauding the “violent” Jesus of Revelation.
Claiborne countered that while the film “Fight Club” might not be a bad movie, it is a “real bad theology.”
“The Jesus that we see was one who did suffer, who was wounded, and who looked those that were torturing him in the face and said, ‘Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,’” Claiborne explained. “To follow this Christ means that we identify with the suffering people of our world … the victims.”
Driscoll does not emphasize the meek and suffering aspects of Jesus, trivializing Jesus’ wrath as blood thirst in the “violent” quote. Pacifist Claiborne is diametrically opposed, not adequately addressing the judgment and wrath of Jesus that will be revealed at His Second Coming. Jesus came non-violently and died so that mankind would be reconciled to God. Ever patient, Jesus longs for repentance and a decision follow Him. Yet there will come a time when those who would not repent will have to suffer the consequences of their sins—they will have to experience the wrath of Jesus.
Building on the scar motif, Claiborne challenged the notion that love forgets.
“I think that this is what this Gospel is about … that the wounds were still there,” Claiborne interpreted. “Even though love forgives, it doesn’t mean that love forgets.”
The author of “Jesus for President” offered the example of the Rwandan genocide and the great healing God is doing there to drive this point home.
“When we see that Christ suffered as we suffered, that Christ bleeds with those who bleed, it invites us to come alongside the victims,” Claiborne asserted.
Claiborne reported the city of Philadelphia’s recent ban on handing out food to the homeless. Claiborne and other Christians protested these bans. After rallying and testifying before court, the ban was eventually repealed as unconstitutional because of a religious freedom violation.
The inner city resident also addressed gun violence. With almost one homicide a day in Philadelphia and 10,000 a year in the United States, Claiborne identified gun deaths as a great problem. Claiborne briefly mentioned two victims of gun violence, a 6-month-old baby in Chicago, and a 19 year old who was killed on Claiborne’s front steps.
“There comes a time where it’s not just a debate around gun control, but it’s an issue of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves,” Claiborne charged.
In response to gun violence, Claiborne’s the Simple Way community has held Good Friday services outside of retailers whose firearms were later linked to crimes. As they reflected on Jesus’ suffering and the hope of life he offers, one mother of a victim said she realized God understood her because His son was a victim of violence.
Gun control is a thorny issue and though reducing the issue to loving our neighbor as ourselves may be helpful, it does not solve the issue. Faithful Christians on both sides of the debate disagree on what it means to love our neighbor in regards to gun violence since they have radically different views on the effects of the legalization of guns.
Displaying a cross fashioned from a bullet and used at a children’s Easter service, Claiborne explained how the cross connects violence that happened to Jesus to the violence of today.
Like much of Claiborne’s work, the sermon message contains wisdom, yet over-politicizes rather than emphasizing the Gospel’s main point. Christians are to walk in solidarity with Christ and with those who suffer. In times of need, we can turn to Christ as one who knows what we are going through and who will help us, since he suffered here one earth. Yet the only reason we can turn to Christ is because he forgave us of our sins. The cross of Christ was not merely the overturning of a system of violence, but the payment of the price for our sins so that we would not have to suffer the consequences. The cross is not merely an example of sacrificial love and forgiveness, but is the supernatural means by which we can show sacrificial love and forgiveness. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our sinful flesh is crucified and we are resurrected as a new man who shows the prodigal love of Jesus. Though the cross provides an inspiring example of suffering, the essence of the cross is found in its life giving power.