(For the next TWO WEEKS I'll be enjoying vacation with my family, so I will not be posting anything new here on the blog.
Instead I am going to re-post the top 10, most viewed blogs from the past.
Hope you (re)enjoy them, and maybe some new discussions will emerge.)
It needs to be understood that jesus' non-violent teachings were not mere commands to be passive. Jesus certainly didn't advocate his followers to just stand by while injustices took place. but he also didn't advocate to become like the oppressor either.
We usually look at violent situations as if we have two choices...
Fight back or cower and run.
In Matthew 5, Jesus is actually offering a third choice, or a third way. (some of the early followers of Jesus were actually referred to as "the 3rd way".)
I want to briefly show what some scholars and theologians think Jesus was teaching in his "sermon on the mount" and for space sake, I will not go into much detail... But you can easily find resources with much more detailed insight into what was going on in these teachings of Jesus.
Jesus said, "if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek."
Jesus is not merely saying "let them keep hitting you and do nothing about it".
An open hand slap in the 1st century was a way of showing that one was higher up on the society ladder than another. An open hand slap was dehumanizing. So it was common for those oppressed by Rome to be back handed by soldiers as a way of showing who was in charge.
So if someone back handed you on the right cheek and you offered them the other cheek as well, this does several things. It forces the soldier to hit you with his fist (it was cultural not to touch people with the left hand because it was unclean.) A closed fist would still hurt, but a closed fist punch signified equality. If the soldier continued abuse by hitting with a closed fist, he would be publicly stating that the " common peasant" was socially equal with himself.
By turning the other cheek, the one being hit would have actually had some power in the situation.
"If someone sues you for your coat, give them your shirt as well."
If some one sued you for your coat (which was written in the law), this indicated that you had lost everything and that they were literally taking everything you had. Living in an oppressed society, this scene was common in the 1st century at the time of Jesus.
A person would typically be wearing two articles of clothing, a tunic and a cloak. So if someone (in public, mind you) sued another for the coat off their back, by that person giving them their shirt also, it would leave them completely naked. And nudity, in that day, brought shame on the viewer not the naked one (think when Abraham was drunk?).
His actions (literally) exposed what the person suing him was doing. The person would then have to decide to proceed, or maybe there would be a heart change when faced with the "Bare" reality of the situation.
"If someone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two."
It was common for a Roman soldier to force someone to walk with him and carry his gear, however, the military only allowed the gear to be carried for about one mile. Any distance more than this was considered cruel (which is odd considering it is Rome we are talking about), and the action would be punishable.
So by walking the "extra mile", several things could happen. First of all, friendship could come from the extra effort of offering to carry the soldiers gear for more than required. Maybe a nice conversation, who knows. Or if the soldier feared being punished, he would probably be begging for his gear back before someone found out, and therefore, putting the power into the possession of the one being forced to carry the gear, rather than the oppressor.
Of course this stuff wouldn't always work, especially after several people had tried them and it became known what was going on. But, ultimately, Jesus is teaching his followers to be creative and to respond in a different way than the way of the Empire.
It should also should be noted that Jesus didn't promise a safe, wealthy, and successful life if one would only follow his teachings, in fact, just the opposite. However, He was providing a different way, a way that led to abundant life. The way of the Kingdom of God rather than the Empire of Caesar.
I like what, Professor and author, Walter Wink writes...
"it is this third way that teaches that 'evil can be opposed without being mirrored', 'oppressors can be resisted without being emulated', and 'enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed.'" (from Shane Claiborne's, "Jesus for President")