Thursday, December 10, 2015

and the violent bear it away

Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves. It goes where it is led, not where it ought to go. Love gives birth to desire, it bursts into flame and that fire draws it to seek forbidden things. What more is there to say? Love cannot accept not seeing the thing that it loves. 

--Sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus

 Today's Gospel is one of those passages that are so important for us to hear, because the strangeness of the words ought to jolt us out of our bland acceptance of Christianity. We expect to hear things like: "Do unto others what you would have done unto you!" "Blessed are the poor in spirit" "That which you did to the least of these.." etc., etc. Since we expect them, we become immune to them. Their vigor, power, and radical newness with which they entered the world and plowed through First Century Palestine are dulled by our dullness, fermented by centuries of repetition.

And then, some days we hear things like: "I come not to bring peace, but the sword."
or, today: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. " (Douay-R
What the fuuuuu
"the violent bear it away"
What does that even mean?

Looking at other translations (the original Greek: biastés), the passage only seems to grow more mysterious:

violent men take it by force. (ERV)
and [the] violent seize on it. (Darby)
and men of violence take it by force. (ASV)
and the violent take it by force. (King James)
and violent people have been raiding it. (New International Version)

So what is this all about? What kinds of violence is happening to the Kingdom of God? And who are all these people bearing it away, seizing it, and raiding it? What does it mean for us that the Kingdom of God is being raided? How? How, if the Kingdom of God is within our hearts? What can exactly be raided?

One thought that comes to mind is how often violence has been done in the name of the Kingdom. Common narratives such as conquistadors, crusaders, and their ilk come to mind. Perhaps the passage references these violent men who have seized the Kingdom, and bent it to their own purposes. It would seem to accurately predict all the violence that would bear away the Kingdom of Heaven.

Another image that appears, however, is the image of the violent seizing at the Kingdom of Heaven, which slips from their grasp. No matter how it is assailed by the violent, the kingdom seems to be always beyond their reach. It may be raided and plundered, yet it seems to remain standing. There is a core of peace that belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven that the violent cannot seem to force from it. This passage is reassuring, comforting. For in the midst of all the violence that fills the world, the Kingdom of Heaven will endure, silently, in the places of quiet peace in our hearts. Peace that the world cannot touch.

Then, I think of the violence with which I approach the Kingdom of Heaven. I wish to take it by force. Look, Lord. Look at how good I'm being. Look at how I've earned my spot in this Kingdom, look at my virtue, look at my brilliance. Look at me. I try to grasp the Kingdom with my own power, by dint of my own goodness.

But the Kingdom of Heaven does not belong to such as these. The violence of the proud cannot understand the Kingdom, where the yokes are easy and burdens are light. Where we are instructed to sit back and rest, and let our feet be washed. Where we must rest and let Christ Himself feed us.

Finally, I read the word of Peter Chrysologus, and see that love destroys the lover. And it seems that love itself is a force of violence. Not of evil, but of great power, capable of great destruction. Destruction, I generally think of as bad. But so much of grace seems to be destructive: breaking down the pedestals we place ourselves and others on, breaking down walls inside our hearts, breaking down the shining barrier of self we ring around our selves. Love is a violent force; a force that possess great vehemence and fervor.

And I wonder if this is the Kingdom of Heaven: those who are almost sick with love, whose great desire to see the Beloved whom they can not yet see nearly destroys them. I wonder if the violence of their love is causes them to seize onto the kingdom and hold onto it for dear life. Love--that violent, careening force--drives them to continually seek Him who their soul loves.

Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.

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