Jesus Was Against Violence
My friend Ben Cook has written in one of his blog’s that “The United States of America has a leader who has as much sense as a small house brick”. How true is that. Ben also wrote in his blog that as he had read in the news that Bush and the UN are demanding that Iran back down over their Nuclear power reactors, because Bush is scared that they will build Nuclear weapons. The president of Iran has said back that he will only stop his nuclear power reactors if Bush stops Americas nuclear production! Fair play I say”!
How can we ask anyone to stop violence when we use violence ourselves. How can violence ever stop violence???
We live in a world that is so unjust and unfair, and the strong military powers just don’t seem to be able to see how stupid they are being. I have to admit I was totally opposed to the war in Iraq although I do have to confess that there were positives that came out of it, but we have to own up to the face that there has been lots of negatives too.
I struggle to see how any Christian can be pro war or pro violence in any shape or form. If we look at the facts Jesus’ wasn’t ever pro-war but yet Christians over the last 2000 years have taken upon then selves to kill people in the name of a peaceful God. Crazy or what?
In the beatitudes Jesus makes it very clear that the peacemakers are truly blessed (Matt 5). He tells Peter he was wrong for cutting of the off the high priests ear in Luke 22. Jesus was totally opposed to violence in any shape or form, time and time again in the Bible we see Jesus reclaiming peoples humanity by using non-violent means. This use of non-violence is called the ‘Third Way’.
Typically the world sees two distinct ways of dealing with conflict.
Do nothing, sit back and let it happen. What can I do anyway, its too big for me to do anything, I have no power I will leave it to those who do. This is totally about submission, passivity, withdrawal and surrendering.
Pick up a weapon and fight. This is about armed revolt, violent rebellion, direct retaliation and revenge.
Jesus’ Third Way is all about finding a creative alternative to violence. Its about asserting your own humanity and dignity as a person. Jesus’ Third Way is about meeting force and oppression with ridicule or humour, doing this shows the oppresser how stupid they are being. Its about refusing to submit to the inferior position and taking the power dynamic. Its about shaming the oppressor into repentance and dieing to the fear of the old order and its rules.
Lets look at a perfect example of this in the gospel of Matthew.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.(Matt 5:38-41)
Lets break this down line by line….
“But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.” A better translation of the Greek here would be ‘Do no retaliate against violence with violence’. Jesus knew that if we retaliated with violence it only causes the oppressor to come back to you with more violence, and then you back to him. Jesus is saying let the violence stop here, this is enough. This is typically known as ‘Jesus’ value of militant non-violence’.
“Whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well”. Why the right cheek? We have two hands, in our culture both are used in equal measure, but in Jesus’ time this was not so. You would eat and do clean things with your right hand, and you would wipe your bottom with your left hand, which made it unclean. You would shake hands only with your right, you would slap someone only with your right but you would wipe with the left. Typically you would slap with the back of your hand, this was always intended as an insult. A fistfight was a fight of equals, but a slap was a way of putting someone in their place. Down with you slave. Roman saying Jew were worthless. Master showing ownership over the Slave. Husband putting down his wife and Parent showing authority over the child.
The intention of the right hand slap was not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place. This was about humiliation and robbing someone of their humanity. You are inferior to me.
So when Jesus says turn the other cheek this is a response to the humiliation. For the oppressor to hit you on the other cheek they would be unable to do it with the back of their right hand. The only way of hitting the left cheek is to do it with a fist.
‘If you are going to hit me, do it as a equal.’
This robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate.
The person being hit Is effectively saying…
‘Try again, your first shot failed to achieve its desired affect I am still equal to you. Bring It on.’
The powerful person has now been stripped of all this power and is now an equal. The next example Jesus gives is in a court of law.
“if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat” It says in Deut 24:10-13 and 17 that if you lend someone money, but they are too poor to pay you back then you are allowed to take their coat as a payment until they can give you it back. Only the really poor would have nothing but a outer coat to give as payment but Jewish law made it clear that it could only be taken if it was to be retuned to the man in evening at sunset, for that was all the poor man had to sleep in.
Jesus says if you find yourself in this situation that you are being sued for your outer garment then take both your outer and inner garment and give it to the man. The poor man would now be naked. It has to be noted that pants weren’t worn in those days, its just too hot.
So why would Jesus suggest walking out of the court naked? We need to put ourselves in the debtor’s place, this poor man has no hope to win the case as he has noting left anyway and the law was on the oppressors side.
Nakedness was a real taboo in Judaism and shame fell not on the naked person but on those whom saw the naked man (Gen 9:20-17). By stripping you have brought the creditor under the same prohibition that led to the curse of Canaan.
Jesus says ‘you show them how ridicules they are being by taking your clothing, are they had evil that they will leave you with nothing. Shame on you, how can you leave a human in this state’. Jesus says make them the undignified one for being so absurd.
Jesus third example is the one about being forced to go one mile but being willing to walk two.
It is well know that Roman centurions were allowed to ask the Jewish people to walk with their heavy bags one mile. Although it was ruled by Caesar that to ask someone to walk more than this was cruel and the Roman would be docked pay or even told to step down from his work. Mile markers were all over the area so that the Romans and Jews knew how far they had walked. Jesus says if you are being forced to carry the Romans heavy bags, then walk further. Suddenly the Jew is now in control, he has the power and the Roman is running behind saying please, please, put down my bag. Jesus has reversed the power and now the slave is the powerful. It would have been so easy for the Jewish people to pop out a knife and stab the Roman and this was known to happen often. But Jesus’ militant non-violence says keep going, you regain power from the Roman, you be the one in charge of the situation.
You have taken back the power of choice and the soldier is thrown off balance, ‘please please give me it back!?!?’
Jesus values of non-violence are only God inspired and aren’t the natural vales that we tend to live by. But we need to start finding new ways for living the ‘Third Way’. The way of peace. Jesus was opposed to dealing with things the violent way and ironically this was one of the things that lead him to a violent death. But even that flipped the tables and the egg was on the face of the oppressor.
We need to be creative in dealing with oppressive powers in the world, showing them how stupid they are looking.