Monday, February 17, 2014

Do Not Resist An Evil Person

Mt 5:38-48

This week's gospel continues the theme of taking Old Testament morality and raising it up a few notches. Demanding more. Jesus has talked about violence motivated by anger. Now He talks about violence motivated by revenge. What do you do when someone does you wrong? Self defense is a basic exception to moral laws against violence that almost everyone accepts. Yet Jesus says we should question it. Often even when the other person is unjust and abusive we do better responding with gentleness and love.

He gives a couple of examples. The most famous of them is, "if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Is He saying we should just let someone abuse us? Sometimes. Striking someone's cheek was not really a threat to their health and safety. It was more of a threat to their pride. A slave in that culture would prefer to be whipped than to have his cheek slapped. The whipping would hurt more but the humiliation of being slapped was quite strong. 

So what is Jesus saying? When you are being abused think first about the soul of the abuser and secondly about what is fair for yourself. When you give him a chance to do it again you also give him a chance to make a different choice. You give him a chance to repent. It separates the sin from the sinner. Suffer the sin for the sake of the sinner.

What is more you turn the humiliation around. When you surrender your pride it loses its power over you.You don't need vengeance. You don't even need the insulting behavior to stop. Instead of ending up in hatred and rage you end up feeling compassion for your tormentor. You end up being like God rather than like a typical human.

Now there are limits. Some sins cannot be endured at least not indefinitely. The examples Jesus gives of the strike of the cheek, the forced walk of 1 mile and the suing for a coat, they can be physically endured. The assault is mostly on your pride. When you change the example to an abused wife or an abused child the situation is very different. The truth is that those cases typically involve situations where enduring the abuse has been tried and has failed. At some point the relationship needs to be recognized as dysfunctional and you have to do something to make the victim safe. Jesus is not suggesting Christians should do nothing regardless of the level of abuse.

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