Violence Against the Kingdom

Matthew 11:11-15

Isa 41:13-20 / Psa 145:1,9-13

… the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force.
(Matthew 11:12)

Our voices shall not be silenced,

For justice and truth we shall stand;

Peace must overcome violence,

And God’s love will reign in our land.

Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.” (Matthew 11:11-15)

Reflection

Jesus conferred on St. John the Baptist the honor of being the greatest because he was the first herald in the New Testament to give witness to the anointed Lamb of God. He was in fact the first martyr of the violence that Jesus was talking about. But what did our Lord mean when He said the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than St. John the Baptist? Jesus was simply stressing the point that the kingdom of heaven is impregnable to all the evil and violence that are trying to take it by force. If King Herod, the greatest tyrant in Israel at that time, was unable to break the spirit and principles of St. John the Baptist, who was the least among God’s soldiers, how could any force on earth or hell ever hope to conquer the kingdom of heaven?

As Jesus had predicted, a long line of evil empires throughout history, wielding their might and power, would attempt, but fail to subdue or suppress the kingdom of God here on earth. Ironically, it would be the seekers of peace, the vanguards of truth and justice, with their principle of active non-violence, who would in the end prevail. God became man in our Lord Jesus Christ as the greatest personification of that ideal, and He commissioned His cousin, St. John to presage it. The history of mankind is also enriched by the lives of many advocates who successfully followed the way of the cross. St. Thomas More, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jose Rizal, Mandela of South Africa are just some of the more notable heroes of peace and non-violence.

One most notable saint whose feast our Church celebrates today was St. John of the Cross. Born in the year 1542 in Avila, Spain, his life personified what our Lord prophesied as “the kingdom of heaven suffering violence, and men of violence taking it by force.” St. John became a priest in 1567 and met St. Theresa of Avila, a charismatic Carmelite nun who attracted him by her strict routine, devotion to prayer and simplicity. Her followers went barefoot, and were therefore known as the discalced Carmelites. Around 1575, a rift within the Carmelite order began to grow and created controversy between various monastic houses. There was disagreement between the Discalced Carmelites and the ordinary Carmelites over reform. In late 1577, John was ordered to leave the monastery in Avila and to return to his original house. However, John’s work to reform the order had already been approved by the Papal Nuncio, who was a higher authority. Based on that, John chose to ignore the lower order and stayed. On December 2, 1577, a group of Carmelites broke into John’s residence and kidnapped him. He was taken by force to Toledo and placed on trial for disobedience. He was imprisoned in a cell in the monastery that was so small he could barely lie on the floor. He was fed only bread and water, and occasional scraps of salted fish. Each week he was taken out and publicly lashed. His only luxuries were a prayer book and an oil lamp to read by. To pass the time, he wrote poems on paper that was smuggled to him by the friar charged with guarding him. John has been cited as an influence to many poets, mystics, and artists. Even in death the violence against his body continued. During his burial, there was a dispute over where he should be buried. The dispute was resolved by removing his legs and arms, and parts of his body buried in several places. Saint John of the Cross was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675, and Canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

Lord God, You gave us models like St. John the Baptist and St. John of the Cross. They lived to counter the myth that the power to change the world belongs to the mighty. Thank You for showing us that it is to the meek and the gentle, the persecuted, the humble of heart, and the peacemakers that Your kingdom truly belongs. Amen.

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