St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Fargo, North Dakota
This week we witnessed yet another mass shooting – roughly the 130th this year – this time at a small, private Christian school in Nashville, TN. And instead of focusing on ways we could prevent shootings like this – such as gun control – a significant number of people have turned their attention toward the shooter’s identity. Instead of focusing on the fact that the number one cause of child death in this country is gunshot wounds, some have chosen to focus on eradicating transgender people as a solution because they have been waiting for an opportunity such as this; they have been waiting for a reason, any reason, to stoke their hatred.
Today’s Gospel readings take us on a journey from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey to his crucifixion and death on a cross. There’s a lot packed into these readings, but there is one passage I find particularly striking. It was a long gospel text, so I’ll read the passage again for you:
While [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Marginalized people – those with the least amount of privilege and power – need those who have more privilege and power than they do to physically place their bodies between them and the people, powers, and institutions that are killing them. Yet so often they are betrayed with a kiss. Self-proclaimed allies and advocates will say the right things, maybe give a little money here and there, but when push comes to shove suddenly their hands are tied and they cannot do anything.
The disciples were afraid to even be associated with Jesus, lest they suffer the same fate. I have observed that it is the people with the most power and privilege who often desert those they are called to defend when those people start getting harassed, beaten, and arrested because, while many of them know they won’t suffer the same fate, they do know that being associated with marginalized people puts their reputation at stake.
And what is it about this reputation that makes it so precious? What point does it prove to keep a reputation at the expense of other people’s lives?
What especially angers me is that some of these self-proclaimed allies and advocates know there are people out there who are just waiting for another excuse to justify their hatred. In their recording of Jesus’ journey to the cross, the author makes a point of saying that “the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death.” Those leaders were looking for any excuse, valid or not, to crucify Jesus. And when the crowd shouted to release Barabbas – well, there was their excuse. They would kill the one whose reputation as a teacher and healer and mission of love and dignity was so threatening to their reputation that they needed to kill him in order to preserve their image.
It is baffling to me that someone’s existence can be so threatening that people decide they need to be controlled, that they need to make laws against them, or even worse, that the people they find so threatening should die. There are a significant number of people who have deemed that the fact that the Nashville shooter happened to be trans is just the excuse they need to call for the eradication of transgender people. Rather than focusing on the fact that we have a serious gun violence problem that continues to go unaddressed; rather than focusing on the fact that six people are dead; rather than focusing on the fact that those staff and children should have been safe in that school and weren’t; rather than focusing on any of this, they have decided they need to cause more harm.
This isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s been happening. The Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, segregation, forcibly sending Indigenous children to residential schools, migrants being held in cages, the list goes on. Jesus did not die for this. Jesus did not die so that violence could be perpetuated in God’s name. Jesus did not die for access to guns. God Incarnate did not die on that cross so that people could value money, power, and the preservation of their reputation over the bodies and lives of marginalized people. Actually, I think that’s what Jesus died to free us from.
So why are we still not free?