Freedom. Speech. Stones. “Tell Them to Stop.” by Marianna Harris
Spirited Reflection – Sunday, February 1, 2015
Rev. Marianna Harris, a minister of the United Church of Canada is co-chair of the Justice Advisory Circle of B.C. Conference and chair of Vancouver-Burrard Presbytery.
I woke up this morning hearing the words, “If they keep silent, the stones will speak out”. I knew that it was part of an Iona liturgy. I was fairly sure it was the words of Jesus. But what was the context?
And I also felt sure why those words were my morning gift. Yesterday I had received an e-mail with a clip from a CTV program reporting that Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency, Steven Blaney had told an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly that “Canada has taken a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement”.
So what is the source of those words about the stones speaking out if “they” keep silent?
Luke 19:40. The context? Jesus is making what we like to call his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It actually is a counterpoint to the triumphal entry of the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem. He is not riding a horse, the occupiers’ symbol of power but a donkey, the poor person’s means of transportation, the every-day, ordinary means of getting from one place to another. And Luke tells us the crowds are roaring their approval, crying out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Oh, no! Is Jesus inciting violence? Are his actions, his teachings suggesting to the ordinary folk that they don’t have to submit to the Lord, the Emperor, Caesar, the divine Son of God? This is sounding dangerous to the status quo – to those who are in power.
And so, Luke tells us, the Pharisees urge Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Ah, the Pharisees – source of much discussion as to who they were. But I’m not sure that who they actually were is the essence of the story. The essence here is that Luke is suggesting that a group of people, religious people, who had influence were getting nervous about how the crowd was reacting to Jesus and those with influence wanted Jesus to silence the protestors. And Jesus’ response, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” So who, we might ask, is getting rebuked?
At our lectio divina group this week, we read the story of Jesus and the little children – this is also a story that Luke tells (18: 15-17). Another rebuke to Jesus. This time the disciples rebuke people who are bringing babies to Jesus.
I remember once preaching a sermon using the words, “Tell them to stop”. It seems to me that when people begin to take seriously the words and teaching of Jesus, people in positions of power, people who are part of the authority structure of society, whether that is religious power or political power, get nervous and the rebuking starts. “Tell them to stop”.
Last night a friend was telling me about his history with the union movement and one of our progressive political parties. In the past he had urged the political party to be more radical in the actions they were taking. When he presented documentation showing that the actions of this party when it was in office were harder on poor people than the actions of a party assumed to be less progressive he encountered some very angry rebuking!
“Tell them to stop”. Do we truly value freedom of speech in Canada, especially if it doesn’t fit with what we happen to believe?
“If they keep quiet the stones will cry out”.
Here is one version of the words, Martin Niemöller, a pastor in Germany, used. His ultimate fate was to be sent to a concentration camp because of his opposition to the policies of Nazi Germany.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Those in power desire to retain their power. And it is possible for them to become intolerant of criticism and dissent. Those, who begin to see reality differently, who see through the eyes of Jesus, have a choice – will we speak out? What risks does that entail? Are we willing to take those risks?
And we can remember the words of Jesus to Simon, renamed Peter (which means rock). On this rock I will build my church. Is there a supreme irony here – It is on the stones that cry out in the face of rebukes, of cries to “Tell them to Stop”, that Jesus builds the community of people who dare to follow him and speak out for justice in our 21st century world.
As I was writing this another phrase came into my mind – words from Jim Strathdee’s song, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu.”
Freedom. Speech. Stones. “Tell Them to Stop”.