Bless the Police with Bishop Myriel & NT Wright
I have had quite a few interactions with the police.
It is unusual for a month to go by in which I don’t have an encounter with the boys in blue.
I’ve spent time dealing with the officers hired to troll college campuses, I’ve been sat on a curb in handcuffs for being “overeager” with a videocamera, I’ve been threatened and detained by cops who were unhappy with the stir I’d caused as I peacefully protested abortion, and I’ve been given a “good talking to” dozens of times.
This is the consequence of being a Christian activist in the land of the free.
In many ways it has made me resent the uniform.
Just this past month, a woman charged at me, screaming and yelling, while a cop passively watched her attack me with a rolled-up magazine. The day before, an officer in another city detained me and five other activists for handing out literature at a high school. While at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, our peaceful team passed out literature and spoke with students under the constant surveillance of over a dozen armed, uniformed police officers.
To borrow from Kierkegaard, these situations fill me with angst. In my flesh, I am tempted to paint these officers as a modern SS, attempting to thwart our efforts to save those on their way to the killing camps. At the same time, I recognize my responsibility to live peaceably with all men, even those trying to deprive me of my freedoms.
We are in very much the same position of those in the Apostolic Church, but the government persecution St. Paul faced under Caesar was far more perilous than ours. The “great” teachers of St. Paul’s day taught from synagogues and pagan temples, yet he still risked his very life to preach the truth of God’s gospel.
Through his exposition of the Acts of the Holy Apostles according to St. Luke, my pastor, John Stoos, spent quite a lot of time stressing the tension that St. Paul was holding taut throughout his ministry. At some points in his ministry, wisdom led him to accept the chains of injustice by Roman oppressors and at other times he appealed to his rights under Roman law. St. Paul would, at times, submit to the burdens of ceremony from his Hebrew brothers and at other times withdraw from the more “stubborn.”
How are we to develop such discernment? What can we glean from this inspired Apostolic tradition?
As I wrestled with the issue in my prayers, I came across two modern quotes that spoke to the issue.
The first was from the musical Les Miserables where the fictional Bishop Myriel addresses a group of French police officers. The men had captured the parolee Jean Valjean with the silver he had stolen from the bishop’s home. The power, and the man’s fate, was completely in the bishop’s hand. Yet Myriel fulfills the law in love. He gives Valjean two silver candlesticks to add to his stolen collection and turns to the officers:
“So Messieurs you may release him
For this man has spoken true
I commend you for your duty
May God’s blessing go with you.”
This isn’t an “act of random kindness” that might make someone think about Jesus. This is a transaction.
The French police are the law of death, and to them Valjean is a dead man. If a loaf of bread equals 19 years of imprisonment, then it isn’t hard to imagine that stealing the bishop’s silver would be anything less than death. This parolee turns his life-long sentence into death. He goes from being a slave to a corpse.
The police bring the dead man to God’s grace, where the flame of a new heart is lit on silver candlesticks. Through no merit of their own, the officers become the conduits of God’s saving grace. Armed guards of injustice become angels of mercy. This echoes the gospel of our Lord – that the King reigns through death and in the resurrection.
The bishop blesses the officers, just as Christ had blessed those who crucified Him. In this blessing the bishop spares a thief, just as our Lord did upon the cross, and the gifted candlesticks proclaim,”Verily, I say unto you, today shall you be with me in paradise.”
This is what blessing your enemies looks like, and this is what is demanded in the Christian life. This is why I must not resent the uniform, but bless it and commend it. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” In Jesus’s subversive kingdom, whosoever will bless the police for His sake, the same shall save his life.
Despite the Roman persecution, Christianity and the Kingdom of the Lord Christ expanded. Caesar’s persecution brought the Gospel before man’s highest throne and toppled it. The Lord’s Kingdom comes in exodus – the evil empire is defeated and God’s people are free, and they receive their inheritance.
The Apostles faced the same question that we do today: If the Kingdom is here, why do the Romans still rule and perpetrate injustice? Why does God allow the American police to do the same?
N.T. Wright offers this helpful insight,
“Thy Kingdom Come: to pray this means seeing the world in binocular vision. See it with the love of the creator for his spectacular beautiful creation; and see it with the deep grief of the creator for the battered and battle-scarred state in which the world now finds itself. Put those two together, and bring the binocular picture into focus: the love and the grief join into the Jesus-shape, the Kingdom-shape, the shape of the cross – never was love dear King, never was grief like thine! And, with this Jesus before your eyes, pray again, Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven! We are praying, as Jesus was praying and acting, for the redemption of the world; for the radical defeat and uprooting of evil; and for heaven and earth to be married at last, for God to be all in all.”
Steve and his Wife, Sarah, live in California’s gold country and are members of Church of the King Sacramento (CREC).
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.