by Nancy Small, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
In the days that followed the September 11th tragedies, a powerful symbol arose from the wreckage at Ground Zero. Workers there discovered the remains of two steel crossbeams that were part of Tower One. These crossbeams somehow held together when the building collapsed, and they emerged from the rubble in the shape of a cross. This cross was erected at Ground Zero and quickly became a symbol of life and hope.
I came to think of this cross as a place of convergence between the orchestrators of violence and their victims. Below the cross were the remains of those killed in the attack along with the remains of those who killed them. Here, in the shadow of this cross, there was no separating the causes of violence from its consequences. And there was no denying that both victims and victors of violence are connected through the brokenness that results.
As I reflected on this cross, I thought about the convergence between violence and nonviolence that happened during the crucifixion of Jesus. It was violence that subjected Jesus to torture and an excruciating death. And it was nonviolence that was his stronghold through it all.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples are eager to defend him as he is about to be arrested. One of them asks, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” (Lk. 22:49). Before Jesus can answer, the ear of the high priest’s slave is cut off. Jesus then cries out to stop the violent assault. “No more of this!” he shouts. He then reaches out to touch the slave’s ear, tenderly healing him from the violence he has suffered. (Lk. 22:51).
In this poignant moment, there is a powerful convergence between violence and nonviolence. Those who have come to take Jesus away are armed with swords and clubs. The disciples stand ready to use their swords to defend Jesus as well, and one of them already cut off the slave’s ear. Yet at a very volatile moment that could have easily erupted in battle, Jesus stands up unequivocally for nonviolence. He affirms this choice by making his final act as a free person one of nonviolence. He extends an open hand of compassion as he tenderly touches the ear of the injured slave. Jesus reaches across the battle lines drawn in the sand with a gesture of peace and reconciliation.
I remembered these words of Jesus as I reflected upon the cross at Ground Zero. “No more of this!” it seemed to cry out as it towered above the brokenness below. No more of the violence that leads to this kind of devastation. No more tolerating the myth that violence can resolve our differences. No more using our brokenness as an excuse to break others. No more ignoring the reality that violence begets violence. No more pretending that violence can be redemptive. The way of redemption is the way of the cross. And the way of the cross is the way of nonviolence.
Each time I recall the cross at Ground Zero, I dare to hope that one day our nation will understand that we cannot use violence to root out violence. Perhaps one day we will realize that the violence we impose on others will eventually find its way back to us. Maybe some day we can admit that there needs to be a radical shift deep within the soul of our nation.
This day seems far off indeed when politicians brag about our nation’s military accomplishments as though they’ve been given a license to kill. It seems elusive when they tout their plans to grow our national defense in a groaning economy. Yet we hasten the dawn of this day whenever we stand up to violence with the strength of nonviolence. In this way, we become part of the transformation we seek. And the transformation we seek is deep and powerful. It is the transformation of the cross where the cruelty of violence was met with the courage of nonviolence. It is the transformation that long ago converted the cross from a place of bloodshed into a place of blessing.
Nancy Small is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the former national coordinator of Pax Christi USA.