What makes people respond to verbal affronts with physical violence? I’ve been pondering that question this week as I’ve considered the reaction of Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth when He proclaimed His divine role in the synagogue.
Everyone knew that the passage He quoted from Isaiah was a prophecy of the Messiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” begins the quotation, “because he hath anointed me…” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1). The Hebrew word for “anoint” is mashach (מָשַׁח), and the related word mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) means the Anointed One, or the Messiah. The words of that prophecy basically say, “I am the Messiah.” When He sat down, all eyes were on Him. Why did He choose that passage? What was He trying to say? The first words out of His mouth left no ambiguity: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). It was shocking. It sounded blasphemous. How dare He make such a claim. They all knew Him: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they asked (Luke 4:22).
I can understand the bewilderment and even the outrage if He appeared to be treating lightly things which they held sacred. But I can’t explain what happened next:
All they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.Luke 4:28-29
His friends and neighbors tried to kill Him because He said something offensive. It just doesn’t make sense. Talk about the punishment not matching the crime!
I find Jesus’ response to this situation to be incredibly inspiring: “He passing through the midst of them went his way” (Luke 4:30). He didn’t panic. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t try to convince them that they were wrong. He didn’t miraculously disappear. He somehow passed calmly through the mob and then quietly walked away.
Conflict is not always avoidable. We may have to defend ourselves, either verbally or even physically at times. There are a lot of wars in the Book of Mormon. But Mormon, himself a military commander, lays out a doctrine of defensive warfare which was given to his people by God:
Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.Alma 43:46
In other words, don’t be the instigator. Don’t start the fight, and don’t escalate. Do what you have to do to end the violence, not to make it worse.
Our mortal bodies sometimes lead us astray. I don’t know why our brains react to intangible dangers the same way they react to tangible ones. But an awareness of those limitations is a good start toward managing them. When we know we are overreacting, we are one step closer to moderating our response. God can help us overcome our natural selves. A good first step is recognizing when we are not in control. (See Mosiah 3:19.)
And what about mob violence? When the people around us are angry, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the emotion. Maybe this is a form of empathy. It’s dangerous. Like the Savior, we need to keep calm, take appropriate action, and if possible step away from the chaos. No good will come from joining the mob.
Today, I will be peaceful in my interactions with others. I will defend myself in appropriate ways as needed, but with an aim to deescalate, to reduce conflict, not to inflame it. I will be careful not to let anger override wisdom as I deal with the inequities and offenses of life.
Leave a Reply