Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Assassins

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, [4] saying:
(Acts 21:37-40 (ESV)
Four thousand men of the Assassins. It’s a curious translation of Sicarion, the Greek rendering of Sicarius or Sicarii for the plural. This was the Latin word for a hitman, or terrorist who would assassinate political leaders using a concealed dagger.
The reason it is curious is that technically speaking assassins don’t come into our vocabulary until much later during the crusades when a Muslim sect took up the same kind of terrorist tactics as the Sicarii, but purportedly smoked Hashish before going on a mission. This is where the term assassin comes in actually, it roughly translates hashish smoker. I sometimes wonder about that. The lore has it that these men were welcomed into a garden of delights that included hashish and women as somewhat of a foretaste of the heaven they would receive if they died on their mission. Marco Polo and others relating tales of adventure and romance depicted them as being highly- trained, and now the term is used for any highly trained killer. There is question as to how highly trained the original assassins were, smoking pot on a mission would not be the practice of a highly trained killer. Though using pot to calm nerves before doing drive-by shootings and liquor store  hold ups is not uncommon, and is actually  responsible for many an unsuccessful attempt at such things.
The translation of this word makes sense to a certain degree, as long as people realize this isn’t the word that is used, but a translation. Capitalizing the word would seem to give the impression that they are actually talking about true Assassins who bowed to the old man in the mountains.  When really it is being used as a term for a Jewish sect that predates the Assassins by almost ten millennia. This was the sect to which Judas belonged, and is also why he became disillusioned with Jesus who turned out not to be the political messiah that he wanted him to be, the political messiah that we often want him to be even today as we invoke him on the left and the right to further our  own political agendas. Judas Iscariot, really means Judas the Sicarius.
One thing we can learn from this is that terrorism has been around for a long time. And of course, one man’s terrorist is often another man’s freedom fighter. Jesus didn’t have much time for that sort of thing. It wasn’t what he was here for. He all but endorsed the Roman government. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the need to call governmental authorities to repentance, didn’t see the abuse of power and so on. He just didn’t see terrorism as a valid response for this sort of thing, at least not at that time. It’s sometimes a difficult thing to discern though. I mean Dietrich Bonhoefer’s attempt on Hitler’s life can be justified on Christian principals and understanding of governmental authority. It’s not that all resistance to tyranny should be shunned. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist to that extent either. But neither did he see the Roman government of his day as being especially tyrannical. And he had bigger things to worry about.

“Set your minds on things above, not on things of the earth,” as Paul says. Or as Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” God takes care of our daily bread, this includes the gifting of good government. We pray for our government when we pray that petition, that it would make wise decisions, and protect us from harm, the harm of terrorists included. To this end the government needs military and soldiers, which is why Jesus is decidedly not a pacifist, though he isn’t a war monger either. Jesus, God, is at work through the work of soldiers who are killing in our name right now. What they are doing is a good work, though it looks horrible. God uses them to establish and maintain order in the world that those of us not blessed with the cross of battle fatigue, PTSD, and the like can enjoy peace and order through which we can carry on in life, raise families and go to work. Our crosses that we pick up in baptism come to us through vocation, and the blessings in life like all blessing come through the cross. It is the hidden mystery of God at work. But it is finally the cross and not political action that brings about our own garden of delight where sex and drugs will no longer be abused as a recreational escape from the torments of this world, but where we will finally know the full weight and glory of love, the fullness of the love of God and self that will be reflected in love for others, no longer to be murdered for our own glory, or to be played with for our own self-deprecation. 

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