This ending is not the only ending that can be envisioned. Mendoza could have been “successful” at keeping the Portuguese at bay. The Portuguese could have been convicted and repented at the sight of the Cross and host. As a matter of fact there are several distinct topics that could be drawn out of this narrative. All truly great narratives can sustain multiple ‘true’ meanings.
For my purposes I will reside on the ‘surface of the text.’ There were the ‘defenseless’ natives and there were the Portuguese – and there were two distinct options that presented themselves.
1) Use violent means to secure the ‘safety’ of the Guarani and prevent a miscarriage in justice
2) Resist peacefully
In point of fact there are no defenseless people. When examined critically can one deny that a five year old could actually ‘defend’ herself? She could kick, she could bite, she could hit, she could throw things, she could even just scream. There are many different ways that a child could ‘defend’ herself. While it is true that said child would almost certainly be defeated in a violent situation she is not without the ability to defend himself. It is similar with men, women, the aged and the very young. We saw this in the way of Father Gabriel and the Guarani. The white robed martyrs took with them into “battle” the Cross and the Host. They obviously had faith more in these than in the ways of Mendoza.
Because, even if they are without the ‘ability’ to defend themselves, they are not without defense from other avenues. The Psalms are very clear about this. Many of the Psalmists will paint the picture that they are between a rock and a hard place. Enemies scheme are on their every side. They speak slander, they “set traps” and wait, they entice and abuse so that the Psalmist is even “brought down to the pit.” But the general response is that the Psalmist can put their trust in YHWH to rescue them and bring their enemies to judgement. This is hardly a minor theme in the Psalms. It is one of the most dominant ideas, that YHWH in his faithfulness will defend the Psalmist when no one else can or will.
It is my wish to draw out Leviathon with a hook. I do not believe that people who wish to “defend the defenseless” are interested at all in defense. They are interested in victory. They want to guarantee the temporal safety of the victims (not now thought of as “the defenseless”) against the unjust actions of potential enemies and abusers.
Now, I do not at all mean to impugne such motivations. I absolutely agree that the enemies are totally in the wrong. And our desire to not see victims fall prey is just as legitimate. Of course we should wish for justice in a situation! Of course! Make no mistake of my writing, I am not supposing that the innocent victims of violence should not be mourned and the violent resisted.
But ultimately I believe that if we were to choose to use violence to resist violence we fail to believe in the Resurrection.
Indeed, I think that one reason that many Evangelicals are often swift to defend the use of violence is because of a single-minded focus on the Crucifixion. I know I never once heard the Resurrection explained theologically as I grew up. And on the other side of the coin, when the Resurrection is interpreted to be a quaint spiritual experience of Jesus’ followers it is stripped of its power.
And so, the striving for victory over the oppressor by means of violence is nothing less than fearing the last enemy, Death. If Death has been overcome by the non-violent resistance to the Powers of the world then why should we need to resort to violence to prevent death? The chant we sung at Eastern Orthodox Easter was “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb restoring life!”
Stanely Hauerwas was once accused of making pacifism seem so simple and easy, he responded: “I never said that is would be easy. I just believe in a Church of believers who would rather die than kill.”
And so may we trust in a heavenly Father, who will so fill us with faith in the victory over death by the resurrection of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ that we may trust in it enough to live by it. Amen