Easter: The Triumph of Nonviolence

As Christians, our faith in the risen, living Christ gives us the deep and practical conviction that violence in all its ugly forms will never win. In anticipation of Easter, Father Elias D. Mallon, S.A., special assistant to the president of CNEWA, reflects on Christ’s resurrection as the ultimate triumph of nonviolence.

Increasingly, violence is the ever-ready “solution” to every problem in our society and our world.

When in doubt, shoot!

Two recent studies — the “Armed Conflict Survey” of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and “Today’s Armed Conflicts” of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law — note an increase and intensification of violence in 2023, while adding that worldwide casualties due to organized crime are increasing and intensifying at an even higher rate.

“Today’s Armed Conflicts” counts 114 international conflicts as well as conflicts between rival factions and uprisings in 2023. There are more than 45 in the Middle East and North Africa; more than 35 in Africa; 21 in Asia; seven in Europe and six in Latin America. This violence impacts every single place where CNEWA serves.

What does nonviolence have to do with Easter?

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea (26-36 A.D.), condemned Jesus to be crucified. Both the method of execution and the inscription on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” indicate Jesus was killed by the Romans for a Roman crime —insurrection and treason.

While contemporary Christian sources, such as the Gospels, were gentle with Pilate, contemporary Jewish sources Josephus and Philo Judaeus described him as a cruel and violent man. The latter may be closer to reality. There was little if anything benign about Roman occupation. Rome responded to any real or, in the case of Jesus, trumped-up threat to its power with massive violence. Genocide, crucifixion and mass enslavement were the ever-ready instruments in Rome’s toolbox.

It was Roman violence that crushed Jesus on the cross. The upstart Galilean was nothing compared with the violence of Roman power. However, in fewer than 72 hours, an empty tomb changed everything. Christ was raised from the dead. The power of violence, the power of death itself was broken. The Good News of the Resurrection — of Easter — is that, while the struggle against violence continues, the end is not in doubt.

As Christians, our faith in the risen, living Christ gives us the deep and practical conviction that violence in all its ugly forms will never win. It is deep in that the Risen Christ, in whom we have been baptized, is the center of our faith and identity, and it is practical in that it calls and challenges us to be nonviolent as Christ was. That is not easy at all and all too often we Christians have opted to overlook it rather than to struggle with it.

Jesus described himself as “gentle” (Mt 11:29). On Easter Sunday, God in Christ definitively showed that gentle does not mean timid or fearful, and most certainly not weak. Without armies, mass enslavements and institutional or personal violence, the gentle, victorious Christ was more powerful than all the cohorts of Rome. On Easter Sunday, faced with reports of increasing violence, we Christians are not disheartened. Rather, we are strengthened in our resolve to be active agents of nonviolence in our lives and world, committing ourselves to a spirituality of nonviolence. Looking at the Risen Christ, we recognize that despite so much violence in our world, being active agents of nonviolence and being gentle people really means being on the winning side.

Father Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., is special assistant to the president of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission.

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