Remembering: Lest we forget

This week’s blog entry is written by Tim Schmucker, Toronto regional representative for MCC Ontario and a contributor to this year’s Peace Sunday Packet, the theme of which is “Crossing to the other side: Living as people of peace in a time of fear and terror.” 

Remembrance Day is, at its core, about remembering the sacrifice of our soldiers and the horrors of war. Without strong and clear remembering, we will forget.

Remembering. Lest we forget.

Today, we live in a context of growing fear. Fear about terrorism. Fear about terrorists hiding among refugees. Fear of the other, the ominous stranger. And Canada is once again at war, to defend us from our enemies.[1] Military power, many say, will keep us safe and protect our freedoms.

On this Remembrance Day, followers of Jesus must remember who they are.

Lest we forget.

Jesus and his disciples also faced fear and enemies. In Mark 4-5, Jesus is in Galilee teaching beside the sea. At the end of the day, he and the disciples embark for the other side. A great gale arises, the disciples fear perishing, but Jesus calms the storm. They then continue crossing to the other side . . . to face their enemies.

After the storm. Photo credit Deposit photos.

After the storm. Photo credit Depositphotos.com.

Crossing the Sea of Galilee meant going to the country of the Gerasenes, to the Decapolis, into the heart of the Roman occupation. Here, thousands of Roman military veterans were stationed and settled; they represented the enemy and the oppressor. Yet Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.” The disciples were terrified.

Perhaps the great storm that rose up was a storm of fear within them, as they journeyed to enemy territory with Jesus’ teachings reverberating in their ears: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Love your enemies.” We also would feel great fear, taking the initiative to go and meet our enemies and oppressors.

So the disciples, filled with a storm of fear, woke Jesus in panic. “Do you not care if we perish?” Their trust in Jesus was being tested. In times of great storms, Jesus asked the disciples, and he asks us today, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Have you forgotten?

Remembering. Lest we forget.

Jesus calms the storm, but insists that they – and we – continue crossing to the other side. Canada is at war against extremist Islamists in the Middle East, our enemies. Many voices have sounded the alarm of Islamic extremism here at home, suggesting we ought to be very fearful. In spite of the horrific refugee crisis in Syrian and Iraq, some people oppose expediting refugee processing because there might be terrorists among them. Others repeat rumours about Muslim refugees throwing Christians off boats in the Mediterranean.[2]

Ancient Rome's road system facilitated the military control of a vast territory. Photo credit History.com.

Ancient Rome’s road system facilitated the military control of a vast territory. Photo credit History.com.

In the midst of this fear, Jesus asks us to trust him, to remember his Way. He reminds us, as he reminded his disciples,  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Love your enemies.”

Jesus and the disciples arrive at the other side, an area of cities colonised with settlements of Roman soldiers and veterans – the enemy oppressors. They are met by a wild man with an “unclean spirit” named “Legion.” Jesus heals the demoniac, and the unclean spirits enter “a great herd of swine” who then rush down the steep hill into the sea and drown.

Ultimately, this is a story of facing fears and enemies and how Jesus transforms them both.[3]

The demoniac is a symbol of the Roman Empire’s oppression, and of its militarism and war. The unclean spirit possessing the man says, “Legion is my name.” A legion was a division of 2000 Roman soldiers, and these legions were stationed in the Decapolis to control that part of the Roman Empire. “A great herd of swine” is not a reference to a literal group of pigs, but rather a large group of military recruits. “Pig” was also the mascot of some Roman legions and, additionally, a derisive name for new military soldiers.

The demons possessing the man also represent Roman militarism, oppression and war. Jesus expels these unclean spirits into the pigs who run into the sea and drown. Note the clear parallel to Exodus liberation. The enemy drowns in the sea, and the oppressed Jewish people are liberated! However, Jesus doesn’t end the story that way.

The “swineherds” then run off and tell what happened “in the city and in the country,” i.e., among the settlements and barracks of the Roman military. People come running to see for themselves, and, finding the demoniac in his right mind, become afraid. So they beg Jesus to leave the military settlements and go back to Galilee. Jesus and the disciples comply. However, the healed man asks to go with them. But Jesus says no, and sends him back to his community, with a mission: stay among your people – including the Roman military – and share with all how the power of violence and military might has fallen and how love, mercy and peace have ascended!

peace buttonsAs followers of Jesus, we are called to live faithfully in a world permeated by the fear caused by extremist violence. Our faith encourages us to face our fears, reaching out in friendship and love to the stranger, to our Muslim neighbours and newcomers. As followers of Jesus, we renounce all violence and place our trust and hope, not in military might, but rather in the One who calms the storm and calls us to join him in crossing to the other side.

Let us remember. Lest we forget.

____________

[1] On October 21, 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada would withdraw from Operation Impact, the bombing campaign against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.  But as of November 7, those attacks are still occurring. See http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-abroad-current/op-impact-airstrikes.page

[2] See http://ryandueck.com/2015/09/16/im-sorry-christian-but-you-dont-get-to-make-that-move/. The incident Dueck says some North American Christians are referring to as the norm can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/europe/italy-migrants-christians-thrown-overboard/

[3] The following interpretation is derived primarily, but not completely, from the work of John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (New York City: HarperCollins, 1995) and Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988).

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