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Thursday, March 04, 2010


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-"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 an evil-doer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.   Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."-Matthew 5: 38-42

This is yet another of Jesus' antitheses, following the formula, "You have heard it said...But I say to you..."  Here the topic is retaliation and man, is this not a hard one to deal with.  But some historical context can help.  Several of these proclamations are aimed at the practices of the occupying Romans who were running the Holy Land during Jesus' day.  One thing they would do, when they were angry with a local, was slap them with their left hand.  Why, you ask?  Well, the left hand was the lesser hand and was used for, uh, some less than sanitary tasks, so a slap with it was particularly humiliating.  Now, if you slap someone with the left hand which cheek do you hit?  The right one.  Jesus says, turn your other cheek and make them strike you as an equal.  Also, Roman soldiers could force anyone to carry their gear for one mile, but then the indentured servant had to be released.  But Jesus said, go two miles.  Why?  To embarrass the soldier and also bring trouble on him, since a two mile journey was against the rules.  So, you see, Jesus is not demanding the same type of passivity that we assume.

What Jesus is offering are nonviolent but still dignified responses to injustice.  And these techniques have been proven successful around the world by Ghandi in India, MLK in the United States and Desmond Tutu in South Africa.  Nonviolence has been one of the most effective methods of social change and Jesus says it can even be successful in personal relationships.  We don't have to choose between being a doormat or being vengeful, instead Jesus offers us this middle road to seek a recourse which preserves our dignity while also aligning with the core values of our faith.  In your own life you might think about those times you have sought vengeance or felt wronged, you may be in the midst of such a trial now, and ask yourself, 'where is the solution Jesus would seek?'  There are always alternatives.

Prayer:  Holy God, help me to be a nonviolent person.  Help me to find the middle ground in my life that might respect my dignity and my faith.  Help me, O Lord, that I might live as you intend.  I pray in the name of Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

[Phil Blackburn, First Presbyterian Church]




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