Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 13, 2018

December 13 / Second Thursday of Advent

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. ~ Matthew 11:12

If I had ever managed to find time to take the divinity school course on “Troubling New Testament Texts,” I would have lobbied to include today’s Gospel passage on the syllabus. Its difficulty arises in part from the ambiguities of translation. Depending on how the Greek root is interpreted, we might read “violence”as a positive characterization of the intense zeal of John the Baptist in his role as precursor and prophet of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Flannery O’Connor, whose novel The Violent Bear It Away takes its title from Matthew’s text, subscribed to this interpretation. Writing to a longtime correspondent who was an English professor at Georgia State, O’Connor bridled at her readers’ misinterpretation of this verse (and of her novel): “That this is the violence of love, of giving more than the law demands, of an asceticism like John the Baptist’s... —all this is overlooked.” Seen this way, “violence” is self-denial on steroids. Service to Christ becomes like an extreme sport: edgy, dangerous, unnerving to watch, yet admirable all the same. For the lesser spiritual athletes among us, this verse pushes us to go beyond the routine of our daily faith practices, to expand the possibilities of discipleship past the boundary of the accustomed. Perhaps we could pray aloud with a friend for the first time, or sign up for that shift at the soup kitchen, or incorporate a new spiritual practice such as meditation or fasting into our lives. While we may never attain the intensity of those who would truly do anything for Christ, we can still benefit from their exemplary willingness to throw themselves fully into his service.

O Lord Most High, giver of all gifts, grant me the courage to push beyond my own self-prescribed limits so that I may love and serve you to the utmost.Amen.

More: Advent
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Phillip Stone
3 years 12 months ago

Neither now nor ever has the community gathered around the crucified and risen saviour been pacifist.
Just two reminders, Jesus considered killing people who harmed the faith of little children (millstone ... neck ... depth of sea) appropriate to the gravity of the offence and took to the racketeers in the Temple court with a rope made into a whip, turned over tables, hit people.
Note, the subjects of his titanic outrage where strong, brutal people.

I suggest your Google Youtube and Jay Smith talking to Muslims in Hyde Park, London and witness for yourself a very strong, confident, determined and aggressive challenge being made by this modern evangelist. Or, check out some of the Christian scientists taking on the new atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchins. Very appropriately forceful males undertaking spiritual warfare.

Dionys Murphy
3 years 12 months ago

Yes. We should always look towards privileged, angry white men who are 'forceful' to speak without bias towards a violent picture of Christianity. That has always worked out very well.

Dani Driscoll
3 years 12 months ago

The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.
new year quotes and sayings

The latest from america

Centering prayer helps me find those places in my heart where God's grace is playing.
Robert E. LauderDecember 07, 2022
person holding a phone with google search screen displayed
I typed “Why does God…” into Google to see what would auto-populate. The question, “Why does God hate me?” was number three on the list.
Jim McDermottDecember 07, 2022
Look at the people with whom you live and work. How are they doing? How are they because of your role in their lives? These questions might reveal as much about your standing with the Lord as your list of sins.
Terrance KleinDecember 07, 2022
“I am not suggesting that we ignore disagreement, but that we handle it in an evangelical fashion, ” Archbishop Timothy Broglio writes.