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Friday, July 19, 2013


The power of hatred and anger is shocking. Reading and reflecting yesterday morning on Mark 2:23-3:6 I found myself confronting a hatred for Jesus which I found difficult to imagine or comprehend. My morning meditation was more resonant when our Thursday Study Group gathered to read a letter of Ignatius of Antioch, an early church martyr. For what crime was Ignatius to meet his end? Why for the horrible evil of claiming Jesus was the Son of God and Savior.

Think about it. Someone believes that Jesus is the Good and source of all good. In imitation of Jesus the man led a life of humble service and attentiveness to the needs of the poor. He led people in prayer and made every effort to shepherd a community of like-minded believers to lead upright lives of prayer and ethical living. Certainly one can see why Rome would deem such a character a threat to the Empire and embrace capital punishment as the most appropriate response??!!!?

Yet the demise of Ignatius is consistent with the One Whom he followed. The stories yesterday illustrate the point.

The first story finds Jesus and His disciples wandering the countryside. In keeping with the accepted practice of that time and place, the hungry young men gathered a handful of grain to eat. [the Jewish "law" was that one could take a handful of grain; striking a balance between communal responsibility and taking advantage.]Clearly, the people observing Jesus were looking for an excuse to be mad. Chapter 2 began with Jesus declaring a paralyzed man's sins forgiven and then healing him. Rather than respond with joy and faith, the religious leaders harbored anger. "Who," they asked "can forgive sins but God? This man blasphemes." Now that the apostles are eating the grain the leaders pounce on it. "See! these men break the Sabbath!"

To be fair, there is another side to this story. During the time of the Maccabees Jews who were faithful to their religion were tortured and killed (including women and children, even babies) for their pious practices. (In 1 and 2 Maccabees you can read of the rebellion). When the enemy attacked on the Sabbath and wiped out a band of resistance fighters, the controversial decision was made to fight even on that day. The difficulties of being faithful were literally life and death decisions. The breaking of Sabbath laws (rules or expectations) was no small thing and their reaction was understandable.What is at issue, however, is the deeper meaning of Jesus' response. "The sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It is a teaching moment. Jesus invites His critics to see the world (and God) more deeply. He is not offensive or judgmental in His words. But they are unhinged, unable, because of their hatred, to hear Him. However, we can be sure they understood these words: "so the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath." This self reference (Son of Man is a title found in Daniel and refers to a divine figure) is a declaration by Jesus of His authority. The adversaries must decide, will we listen and believe or not? Jesus uses the story of David feeding his men with the holy bread. Jesus is identifying Himself with David (and He is the Davidic descendent/Messiah). [Ironically, the cycle of readings today from Samuel was that very narrative! ]

In the next episode, again on a Sabbath, Jesus heals a man. Jesus tries to engage them, "Is it lawful to do good or do harm on a Sabbath? to save life or kill?" His question is useless. They are not open. They do  not have ears to hear or hearts to ponder his question. Instead, because Jesus heals a man they go out to plot how to destroy Him.

What was true in Jesus' time and seventy years later in Ignatius' time is still true. Jesus produces unhinged anger in those who reject Him. For whatever reason, call it fallen human nature, demons, or the social interactions of competing groups, what seems to be an act of kindness (feeding, healing) is interpreted as punishable by death. Jesus just has the capacity to make people crazy. As Jesus said in another place, "If they hate Me they will hate you." Those who follow Him should keep that in mind.


  1. while all comments are welcome, even and especially those of a critical nature, anything said that does not advance an argument about content in a respectful manner will be deleted.

  2. Respect should be deserved, or it really can't be worth much.

    The interesting thing about the Gospels is that the anger directed against Jesus always comes from the religious; one never reads of someone coming up to Jesus and saying "I don't believe in God, so I hate you."

    One issue that the religious need to keep in mind is that it can be too convenient to use the principle "The world hated Jesus so it will hate us" to avoid facing the question of whether the speaker himself is making the Gospel even more odious than it might be otherwise, by something in himself that he refuses to face.

  3. Thanks for that important insight. I think you may be overlooking the Roman role in all this (both Jesus and Ignatius) which was certainly not the opposition of "religious people."
    Even so, valid point. We Christians can and do hide behind the statement "they hate Jesus so they hate me." We need to admit that we may generate the negative on our own and continually convert...
    Thanks for that helpful input.

  4. I regard the Ignatian Epistles as one of the more important issues in early Christian studies and have read all of the "acknowledged" ones; a few years ago I engaged in a vigorous debate with a fellow atheist who dismissed the authenticity of all of them out of hand, which was absurd.

    Having said that, you may be aware that in the aftermath of Lightfoot's publication vindicating their authenticity, which I believe is still taken as definitive, Rev. Benjamin Killen, the Dean of a Presbyterian Seminary in Ireland, wrote a 50-page essay arguing quite closely why they should be taken as "entirely spurious." I didn't find Killen's arguments convincing, though he made some categorical points that may have had some validity.

    All that to say that there is a legitimate question as to whether Ignatius is the best example of the world hating Christianity, for the simple reason that it is possible that his arrest was affected as part of a general "sweep" by the authorities in response to a civil disorder: in other words, he may have been "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

  5. I see the first link was flawed. Here is a good one: