Obsessed with Fighting

Garden of Gethsemane:

JESUS

“Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?

PETER

What’s the buzz?
Tell me what’s happening. (Repeat a few times)

PETER AND APOSTLES

What’s the buzz?
Tell me what’s a-happening.
Hang on, Lord,
We’re going to fight for you! (Repeat)

JESUS

Put away your sword
Don’t you know that it’s all over?
It was nice, but now it’s gone.
Why are you obsessed with fighting?
Stick to fishing from now on.” (From “The Arrest” in “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice)

During this Holy Week when deaths by gun violence are more numerous than commercials during March Madness those lyrics from “Jesus Christ Superstar” speak volumes about the state of our world. I’m especially moved by the question Jesus puts to his disciples, “Why are you obsessed with fighting? Stick to fishing from now on.”

Jesus is asking us Americans the same question 2000 years and hundreds of wars later. These men with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane have been with him throughout his entire ministry. They have heard him preach and teach many times where he has consistently proclaimed a pacifist life style.

They’ve heard him say “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “turn the other cheek,” “forgive 70 x7,” and “love your enemies.” And yet when the armed crowd comes to arrest Jesus Matthew tells us, “Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.” (Matt. 26:47-51)

What does Jesus do? Does he commend this disciple for trying to protect him? No, he reprimands him, saying, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52)

For those worried about the servant of the High Priest, he does not end up a forerunner of Vincent Van Gogh. Luke’s account of the arrest includes this verse: “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:51) Because he is not afraid Jesus responds with compassion instead of more violence.

There are many reasons we are still obsessed with fighting, but many flow from a mindset of scarcity which leads to a constant state of fear. The scarcity myth has convinced most of us that life is a zero sum game where we are all in competition with everyone else for whatever it is that we want or think will make us feel secure. The scarcity mindset is the engine that drives our over-consumption economy. We buy new models of cars and electronic gadgets, not because we really need them, but because clever marketers know how to play us. For example, I have a Fitbit Versa Lite that I use to track my daily steps, my sleep patterns, and my heartrate. It shows me text messages and emails in real time. A time traveler from 20 years ago would be blown away by such a marvelous little machine. But then I see people with Apple watches that can do everything my Fitbit does but lets people actually take calls and talk back through their wrists like Secret Service agents or Dick Tracy, and I think I really need one of those. Jealousy is scarcity’s first cousin, and it shows up when I am afraid that I’m not cool enough if I don’t have the very latest technology at my fingertips.

A much more serious form of scarcity fear shows up on the world stage, for example, when the U.S. is afraid we will run out of climate-killing fossil fuel we engage in endless, futile wars in the Middle East where the oil happens to be. On our national scene fear and scarcity rear their ugly heads in so many ways I will just mention a few. A fear of not having enough power results in bitter political divisions that threaten our democracy itself. This shows up in gerrymandering Congressional districts by both political parties to get or preserve their power. This is a hot topic right now as voter suppression laws disguised as “election security” are a national movement. Power scarcity shows up in judicial appointments for life, not based on qualifications of the candidates but on ideological viewpoints and partisan loyalty. And tragically that fear was fed by Trump’s big lie about the election and emerged in full force when people afraid of losing political power stormed the U. S. Capitol on January 6.

Sadly, fear is personified in the epidemic of gun violence in this country–from Columbine 22 years ago to Orange County California yesterday. Fear is a vicious cycle. After each mass shooting gun sales go up because people are afraid and want to protect themselves and their families and property. I get that, but we are at a point where fear is turning into paranoia where far too many people who shouldn’t feel the need to be armed. Then when an argument occurs somewhere and escalates into a situation that would have been settled with fists years ago instead results in a fatality.

Any reasonable person can see that responsible gun owners don’t need assault weapons designed for one thing by the military–to kill other human beings. But fear warps our thinking. We fear that “they,” whoever they are, may have more fire power than we do, and the cycle of armament proliferation on our streets is the same scarcity mentality that plays out internationally in nuclear arms races and spending obscene amounts of money on weapons of mass destruction.

The scarcity fear goes clear back to Cain and Abel; so there seems little hope it will be solved anytime soon, but it surely would help if more of us can take a step back and ask ourselves why am I, why is humankind still obsessed with fighting when it ultimately doesn’t work. Jesus’ warning is oh so true, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”