In the protest marches across the country, people frequently hold up signs with similar messages. One common message is this: “Silence is violence.” That is, it is not OK to be silent on particular issues. People must speak up. Otherwise, they are complicit in certain violence that exists in the world.
Of course, simply not being silent is not enough. A person also must speak the correct message. Just any words will not count. The message has to be an acceptable one to the popular movement of the land.
But silence amounts to violence itself.
It is a lesson about acceptable forms of speech in a culture. Some things ought not to be said while other things must be. A person can get into trouble with his or her words – or lack of them. A mother warns a child, “Think before you speak.” That admonition weighs heavily in some times and places, including our own.
Mark 6 gives us some eternal truth about the dangers of speaking. I think it teaches that for the child of God, speaking always comes with the risk of violence. The powers-that-be in culture may not (and likely will not) appreciate the message of a disciple.
John the Baptist met a violent end. He was not a silent man. He preached repentance (Mark 1:4). And he preached it even in the face of the most powerful man (and woman) in the land. John preached. John was rejected. By Mark 6, John was dead.
It’s a graphic episode about lust and pride and noisy violence. For John the Baptist, speaking was violence – violence the world brought to him.
Jesus also was a preacher of repentance (Mark 1:15). And Jesus also faced rejection. In Mark 6, his own people took offense at him. His hometown became an unfriendly place. Jesus preached and was rejected, and we know what would happen to him by the end of Mark’s Gospel.
For Jesus, speaking was violence – violence the world brought to him.
Woven into the stories in Mark 6 about the rejection of Jesus and the rejection and death of John is perhaps an ominous lesson for disciples of Jesus Christ. The Twelve were beginning to preach. Like John the Baptist and Jesus before them, they also were preaching a message of repentance (Mark 6:12).
The disciples had good success at first. People were impressed. The word got around. The word got around to King Herod. At that point, the disciples’ story was interrupted in by the flashback about John the Baptist’s death. Even in the disciples’ initial success, we get a moment of foreboding.
Like John the Baptist and Jesus, the disciples preached. John the Baptist and Jesus were rejected for their preaching. And John the Baptist was dead. Jesus soon enough would be dead. This is an ominous sign for the Twelve.
If silence is violence in our culture, what might be the message of repentance? Is that a peaceful message?
The legacy of our faith has little to do with silence. It has everything to do with proclamation of the good news. It is a message of repentance – of turning from our worldly ways to Jesus Christ.
Disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t silent people. But when they open their mouths, they face the very real risk of violence – against themselves.
And so the temptation is to be silent, or to speak something less than repentance. It is dangerous to stick your neck out.
But disciples today can speak about justice, which seems so highly valued in our culture. People strive for justice because they have the fading mark of the glory of God in their souls. Our God is a lover of justice. Many people don’t even fully realize why they are hungry for justice. But they are – because they are made in the image of God.
Disciples today also can speak about why justice seems so hard to achieve in our world. Sin has marred God’s creation and robbed it of justice. It is not sin by only a few people. It is sin by all of them. This world is not as it should be. We’ve marred the image of God within us, and injustice has swept into the world. And humans, still with the lingering mark of God’s glory, are straining toward an elusive picture of justice.
Disciples today also can speak about the impossibility of achieving perfect justice, despite our efforts. We can’t do it on our own. The anger and unrest will find no solution outside of Jesus Christ. The message disciples might speak today is that people should repent and turn to Jesus. We must enter a new kingdom – the kingdom of God. We must await our Savior’s return.
The ultimate injustice, of course, took place on a cross outside Jerusalem. An innocent man died. And all of us are guilty. When disciples speak of justice, they speak about it with clear heads. Justice means bad things for us. And so disciples speak of justice AND grace.
But not everyone in the world will like this message. Mark 6 shows us the world’s response to John the Baptist. And it shows us the world’s response to Jesus. The rest of the New Testament (and church tradition) shows us the world’s response to the Twelve. Disciples speak. They can’t be silent. The news, after all, is good. But their speaking tends to bring violence. A disciple must be ready.
A question for your day: What does it mean to speak a word of repentance in our culture? How might that word be received? How important is it to speak it?