Like most Jewish feasts, the meal eaten for Passover—called the “seder”—takes place over a cup of wine. Multiple cups, in fact. Weddings, the welcoming of Shabbat and even circumcisions take place over a full glass, which explains the Bible’s numerous references to wine as a symbol of God’s blessing. The reasons for this differs depending on which branch of Judaism you’re asking, but almost all interpretations suggest that there’s something powerful about raising a cup to symbolize the moment of celebration. It’s a literal take on the english expression of “drinking in the moment.”
But something slightly different takes place at the seder meal, which celebrates Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. During the meal, you dip your finger into your wine and spill a drop out on the table. You do this 10 times—once for every plague. The reason for this, according to Rabbi Shagra Simmons, is that “Our cup of joy is not complete, because people had to die for our salvation.”
‘Teach Them a Lesson’
Last Friday at Liberty University, the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., addressed the San Bernardino shootings saying that, “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them,” to uproarious applause.
Here’s the full transcript. But one part stood out:
“If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now—Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know. [Laughter] I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them. I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
There were plenty of cheers and laughter throughout.
This statement has drawn wide condemnation various groups. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told The Washington Post that the words were “rash and repugnant.” Shane Claiborne wrote that “Jesus did not tell us to kill our enemies. He told us to love them.” Even Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stepped in, saying Falwell was “giving aid and comfort to ISIS and other radical jihadists.”
Since then, Falwell hasn’t apologized, but he has said he’s aware that “there are are many good Muslims, many good moderate Muslims” and he believes that it was clear that the phrase “those Muslims” was specifically referring to radicalized Islamic terrorists.
That may well be true, although it’s worth asking whether or not a Christian who heard a Muslim cleric telling his congregation to “end those Christians” would naturally assume that the “dangerous Christians” part was implied. At the very least, such a cleric would be guilty of shocking carelessness. It seems Falwell should be held to the same standard.
However, it’s certainly true that Falwell has every right to offer free gun safety courses at his school, and it is well within most Liberty students’ legal rights to arm themselves. This doesn’t have to be a debate about guns.
Rather, the point that ought to concern all Christians is the joyous tone being struck here. Falwell speaks for the largest Christian university in the United States, and publicly calls for death to thunderous applause. Even if we allow for the distinctly unlikely possibility that Falwell or one of his students would ever have the opportunity to shoot and kill radicalized Islamic terrorists, ought the response really be one of—there’s really no other way to put it—celebration? Shouldn’t our reaction to violence elicit a slightly different response than a Monday night touchdown?
‘Turn the Other Cheek’
Of course, Jesus talked about violence many times. In fact, a lot of his words have convinced people that Jesus had no taste for violence at all. “Love your enemies” remains, to this day, perhaps the most baffling and counter-intuitive commands of them all, but there’s more. “Blessed are the peacemakers” certainly strikes a different chord than “let’s teach them a lesson.” And finally, Matthew 5:29: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also.”
Of course, the Old Testament is filled with Israel’s army taking to the battlefield with God’s favor, so the biblical argument for pacifism is not quite as cut and dry as some might like it to be. But at the absolute least, we should be able to recognize that when Jesus told His followers to turn the other cheek, they lived in the same dangerous world we live in today. They had enemies. Jesus told them to love. They were being threatened. Jesus told them to seek peace. They were being beaten. Jesus told them to keep it up.
In the face of this, “teach them a lesson” is a very round peg trying to fit into a very square hole. Cheering for it, all the more so.
So even if the argument could be made that Jesus might have made qualifications for “turning the other cheek” when it comes to self-defense, it’s difficult to imagine Him reveling in it very much. Jesus spent His life observing Passover. He had dipped his finger into the wine to empty it a little, knowing that “the cup of joy is not complete, because people had to die.” The death of anyone—even those trying to do us wrong—does not add to our joy. It only takes away from it.
Simply put, when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he wasn’t being naive. He knew what he was asking.