By Herb Montgomery
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” —Jesus (Luke 12.54–56 NIV)
I want to continue our look at the final eight prophecies of Jesus concerning the two paths that lay before him to Jerusalem and the fates at the ends of each of those paths.
Remember, the two paths were A) nonviolent, enemy love versus B) the path of eye for an eye retaliation and militaristic revolt against Rome. (See Matthew 5. 38-42; 7.12-14)
Jesus’ kingdom is not merely a counter intuitive way of doing life, but a way that is also deeply rooted in a radically different way of seeing God, ourselves, and everyone around us, even our enemies.
The track that Jerusalem was already on, the way of eye-for-an-eye, retaliation-and-retribution, intrinsically escalates till it ends in death.
Jesus’ way of enemy-love, enemy-forgiveness, doing-to-our-enemies-what-we-would-want-them-to-do-to-us, brings healing, peace, and life eternal.
In this second part of our series we are looking at the second of the eight prophecies which says:
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” - Jesus (Luke 12.54–57)
This is the foundation and preliminary prophecy for the third prophecy recorded by Luke in the Gospel of Luke 13.1–9. [Note: We will be discussing the astounding nature of that prophecy in Part 3. But in order for that third prophecy to have its proper impact, we must first do some pre-work with this passage in Luke 12.]
The weather-wise Israelites of Jesus’ day could tell by watching the clouds over the Mediterranean or by observing the wind direction changes (when the wind veered around to the south) what the imminent weather changes would be in their region, and they planned accordingly. What Jesus is drawing attention to here is their keen ability to reason from cause to effect when it came to matters of weather, but their utter blindness and inability to reason from cause to effect when it came to the path of violence they were on in relating to their political enemies, the Romans.
Jesus then uses a contemporary metaphor for his day of the then current court system to illustrate the end trajectory of the violent path they were on with Rome:
“As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Luke 12.58–59)
What Jesus suggests here is not militaristic rebellion but, on the contrary, peacemaking and reconciliation, rooted in nonviolent, love and forgiveness for one’s enemies.
Who was this adversary Jesus was referring to? Rome, represented in the person of Pilate the Roman governor. Without stealing too much away from part 3, this is exactly why Jesus’s listeners object in the very next verse (Luke 13.1) on the basis of Pilate’s atrocity against some Galileans. They were in essence saying, “You want to us to practice nonviolent, enemy-love and forgiveness with Pilate? You have got to be kidding us! Don’t you realize what Pilate recently did to the Galileans who were offering sacrifices? How can you expect us to merely turn the other cheek? This demands some measure of retaliation!”
In Matthew this instruction is placed within Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount:
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5.25–26)
In Matthew’s account, Jesus teachings are in the context of leaving your gift at the altar when offering a sacrifice if you remember that you have an adversary who is against you. Jesus commands, “First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.” Twice in Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9.13; 12.7; cf. Hosea 6.6)
“Mercy” on one’s enemies is the path that leads to life. The God of nonviolence that we see in Jesus is intently working with Israel at this stage, endeavoring to have them repent, to leave the path of eye-for-an-eye retaliation, and to embrace the way of mercy toward the Romans. This was the narrow way of enemy-love, enemy-forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. This was the path that would lead them to life eternal, on earth as it is in heaven. If they did not leave the path of violence and embrace the path of relating with nonviolence to their present adversaries (the Romans), the trajectory of the violent path they were one would end in their “not getting out until they had paid the last penny.” It would end in their utter annihilation.
The options before them were transformation or annihilation. Remember, this was not an imposed annihilation forced on them by a violent God, but rather a warning about an annihilation that would be the natural result of a course of action toward their adversaries that would escalate into their utter destruction and death in AD 70.
Jesus will say it again:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19.42)
Today we plan our daily activities around listening to weather forecasts or checking our weather apps on our phones, while we are strangely ignorant of the clouds of our own making that are gathering on the horizon of our lives in both our personal and global relationships.
In part 1 we looked at what following Jesus’ narrow way of nonviolence looks like in our personal lives. (Our family, friends, coworkers, or fellow students.) In this second part, I want to ask more global questions. (Whether we ask these questions regarding our private relationships or our global ones, the implications are the same.)
Jesus is about to (in Part 3) draw attention to the report of a tower that fell in Siloam. Recently in America, this nation engaged in it’s annual remembering of those who lost their lives when two towers fell in New York City in 2001 and the events of that day. For many, the way of retaliation is the only logical response. Anything else does not make sense. Anything less would possibly be “dangerous.” But Jesus is whispering to us to take a different path than that which is intuitive to us.
There is a way that seems right to us, but its end is death. More violence, according to Jesus, only ensures, not our safety, but our own destruction.
War-making has today become a kind of “religion” rooted in “sacrifice.” Jesus calls us to peacemaking rooted in “mercy.” (Matthew 9.13; 12.7; cf. Hosea 6.6)
The God of nonviolence that we see in Jesus desires mercy not sacrifice. What would happen if instead of supporting a military-industrial complex, Christians began spending billions on feeding the world’s starving? What would happen if instead of supporting more loss of life in Iran and Afghanistan, Christians went to work to establish new schools and hospitals in Iran and Afghanistan?
What would happen if Christians today stopped funding Israel’s occupation of Palestine and began embodying Israel’s Messiah in teaching and demonstrating enemy-love and forgiveness, the way of mercy rather than militaristic sacrifice, to Israel the same way Jesus did so long ago? What would happen if Christians stopped believing that Jesus’s way is impractical, naïve, or insufficient, flatly stating that it “doesn’t work” in the “real world” and began to follow the way of nonviolent, enemy-embracing love that Jesus came to teach us, no matter how difficult? What would happen if Christians began actually believing in Jesus once again?
The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is still whispering to the world today, “Overcome evil with good. Reject your tribalism, and love everyone on the planet. Reject your way of violence, and become people of enemy-love, forgiveness, mercy, and nonviolence. If you do not do this, you as a global community, will be destroyed.”
Jesus gave us a way to heal the world, (Luke 9.2; John 3.17). Jesus did not come to this world to condemn it, but so that, through him and His teachings, it might be healed. The Revolution starts now, with me and with you.
Wherever this finds you, keep living in Jesus’s enemy-love till the only world that remains is a world where this love reigns.