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The Word on the Week

Marching Men

Living in Ireland could be likened to inhabiting a semi-detached house where the neighbours have regular fights. These carry on largely ignored but occasionally an act of unusual violence disturbs the occupants in the other half of the house.

There were incidents earlier this year which spoiled the G12 Summit in Fermanagh from being the showcase to the world that we longed to present. There is also the “Marching Season”, that annual explosion of over 3,000 marches on or around the 12th of July. It has to be said that there are only a few contentious parades, i.e. those which mischievously create disharmony but once the “cat is let out of the bag” the police have sometimes days of work to restore tranquillity.

Last night the neighbours were commemorating the introduction of internment without trial, back in 9.8.71, with their usual bonfire and parade. This was challenged by no less than four counter-demonstrations giving the Police a daunting task. Keeping the marchers separate required the usual riot gear, water cannon, plastic rounds and a helicopter. Opposing them were the brick and bottle throwers who found a plentiful supply of ammunition in the main shopping thoroughfare where the action was located.

Of course these encounters are very exciting for the participants. They run little risk of injury as the Police provide the buffer zone between the combatants. Woe betide any policeman who uses “undue force” to restrain individuals from breaking his bones or setting him alight with petrol bombs. It really presents young men with a golden opportunity to expend testosterone while incurring little if any sanctions.

What has the Bible to say to all this?

Quite a lot really. The struggles to live at peace in their land take up much of its Old Testament narrative.

Even when Jesus came, was recognised as the promised Messiah and established a small following, it was their desire to have him overthrow the Roman army of occupation and “liberate” the people.

This was why St Peter’s was shocked at Jesus mention of going to the cross.

It was such an obscenity to contemplate. A crucified Messiah! He wanted a physical deliverance not another failed coup! St Matthew records Peter saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Chapter 16 Verses 22/23.

A spiritual conquest, leading to a change of heart and a change of behaviour, transformed Jesus disciples. But for Belfast there first has to be a laying down of bricks and bottles before there can be a picking up of the cross. Jesus Christ has not only shown us the way. He is the way. There is no other for this life or the next.