Read Luke 19
Focus on verse 45-46
Is violence ever appropriate? Is there a time when it is justified? Can you think of a situation where taking violent action may result in less evil than standing by? This is a common argument used by some people to justify taking violent action. Others might maintain that there is never any justification for the use of violence under any circumstance.
I personally grew up in a culture that taught pacifism as the pathway to peace. I greatly appreciate and respect those who hold to this view despite the fact that my belief is that there may be occasions when violence is actually prevents a greater evil. I would also suggest at this point, that this is not a matter in which one view is wrong and the other is right. Rather, this is a case where each view has validity but each also has some problems when it comes to the example and teaching of Jesus.
In today’s reading we encounter one event recorded in the gospel record where Jesus condones the use of violence by His example.
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “it is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (v. 45-46)
The picture here is of Jesus, uncharacteristically and seemingly spontaneously, making an impromptu whip out of cords as He marches into the temple courtyard where the money changers are ripping off worshipers who are bringing their sacrifices to the temple.
As is true of many social programs, this probably began as a genuine service to people who did not have access to suitable offerings, so that they could purchase them at the temple. As time went on I can imagine one of the priests having this great idea to turn it into a temple fund-raiser. Fast-forward a few more years and the whole process has now been turned over to professional money-changers who are allowed to skim a little off the top as reimbursement for their diligence, and voila! The temple court is essentially turned into a market place full of booths selling animals and loan sharking money-changers.
It is into this scene that Jesus wades into wielding a crudely made whip, flipping over their tables and scattering their animals as He shouts “It is written…etc.”
Apparently, Jesus believed a little violence was appropriate in this instance. I suspect that aside from a few bruised egos, little physical harm was done to person or animals, so one might be able to make a case that though this was aggressive behavior, it is not the same as doing bodily harm to a person, and this is an important factor in the discussion. Jesus was not defending himself, or trying to intercept someone who was threatening to harm another person. What He was defending in this case was the reputation of the temple as a house of prayer and worship, and in a sense perhaps also the reputation of His Father.
It is also perhaps pertinent to point out that this is the only record of Jesus acting in a violent manner, in every other case, both in his teaching and His example, He advocates turning the other cheek rather than responding to violence with a violent response. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the way He responded to His accusers as well as His executioners as He was arrested and sentenced to death.
When Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword, Jesus rebuked him sharply and then healed the servant of the high priest whom Peter injured. It would seem that when it comes to defending one’s self, Jesus leaves little room for the use of violence.
There is no easy formula or biblical verse that will answer the question of whether or not violence is appropriate in every situation. I suspect there are some cases where it might be justified and others where it is not, the degree to which we get it right or not will likely be directly proportional to how closely we are walking with Jesus at the time. If this is true, it should provide at least some motivation to work on that relationship.