Nonviolence for the Violent — The Third Way

I offer here a tran­script of a fasci­na­ting lec­tu­re — in my view — given by Walter Wink:

Part 1 – Video Recording here. Video Recording in one pie­ce here.

Total dura­ti­on of the lec­tu­re: 45 min.

Wow!

This morning I want to talk about — as you said — Nonviolence for the Violent.

I cho­se this tit­le becau­se we all have vio­lence wit­hin us.

To reco­gni­ze our inner vio­lence is one of the har­dest things we must do, if we were to beco­me non­vio­lent. I once tried to era­di­ca­te vio­lence from my heart, when I took a long look at all the vio­lence and rage wit­hin me, I thought I had a tre­men­dous amount of work to do.

If we can’t deal with our own per­so­nal vio­lence, how do we expect to deal with the vio­lence of Nations?

Let’s turn then to what Jesus has to say about non­vio­lence. He says this:

You heard that was said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ but I say to you:

Do not resist one who is an evil­do­er, but if anyo­ne strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyo­ne sues you for your outer garment, give your underg­arment as well, and if one of the occup­a­ti­on tro­ops for­ces you to car­ry his pack one mile, car­ry it two.

Many other­wi­se deve­lo­ped Christians sim­ply dis­miss Jesus’s tea­chings about non­vio­lence out of hand as imp­rac­ti­cal idea­lism. And with good rea­son. Turn the other cheek has come to imply a door­mat-like qua­li­ty, that has made the Christian way seem coward­ly and com­pli­cit in the face of injus­ti­ce. Resist not evil seems to break the back of all oppo­si­ti­on to evil and to coun­cil sub­mis­si­on. Going the Second Mile has beco­me a pla­ti­tu­de, mea­ning not­hing else then Extend yourself and encou­ra­ges col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the opp­res­sor. Jesus’s tea­ching view­ed this way is imp­rac­ti­cal, maso­chistic, and even sui­ci­dal. An invi­ta­ti­on to bul­lies and spou­se bat­te­rers to wipe up the floor with their supi­ne Christian victims.

Jesus never dis­play­ed that kind of pas­si­vi­ty. Whatever the source of the misun­derstan­ding, such dis­tor­ti­ons are clear­ly neit­her in Jesus or his tea­ching. The nor­mal or natu­ral reac­tion to being slap­ped, sued, or for­ced to car­ry a soldier’s pack was irri­ta­ti­on, outra­ge or vio­lence. The struc­tu­re of vio­lence is qui­te simp­le: Do unto others as they have done unto you.

Consequently we always mir­ror our oppo­nent and beco­me the very thing that we hate.

Jesus offers a third way, one which marks an his­to­ric muta­ti­on in human deve­lo­p­ment — the revolt against the princip­le of natu­ral selec­tion. With Jesus a way emer­ges by which evil can be oppo­sed without being mir­ro­red and enga­ged without capi­tu­la­ti­on. Jesus coun­sels resis­tance, but without violence.

The Greek word trans­la­ted ‘resist’ in Matthew 5 is: ‘ANTI/STENAI’ (He wri­tes the words anti/stenai and against/stand onto black­board.) Stand against.

What the trans­la­tors have over­loo­ked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek ver­si­on of the Old Testament as a tech­ni­cal term for ‘war­fa­re’. It descri­bes the way oppo­sing armies would march toward each other, until their ranks coli­de, until they got com­pa­ny of ste­al against steel, dis­em­bo­wel­ling each other, until one of the lines bro­ke and fled.

This was cal­led Taking a stand.

This is not the tame litt­le word being used, this is the real word: war.

Ephesians 6 uses the pre­cise­ly this image­ry. Quote: Put on the who­le armor of God, so that you may be able to with­stand (antis­tenai) on that evil day and having done ever­ything to stand firm. (stenai)

In short antis­tenai means more here than sim­ply to resist, it means to resist vio­lent­ly; to revolt, to rebel, to enga­ge in an armed insur­rec­tion, as was Barabbas — same word used.

So when Jesus says: Do not antis­tenai one who is evil,

he is tel­ling us not to resist evil with vio­lence.

King James of England was pro­found­ly dis­tur­bed during the Protestant Reformation, that Presbyterians from Geneva were smuggling copies of the Geneva Bible into England. (joking:It‘s all the Presbyterians fault.) He con­dem­ned the mar­gi­nal notes1 as sedi­tious, dan­ge­rous and trai­to­rous for endor­sing the right to over­throw a tyrant. The King was not amused.

Therefore he aut­ho­ri­zed a new trans­la­ti­on, the aut­ho­ri­zed ver­si­on, the King James Bible. It was writ­ten with part of its inten­ti­on to pre­vent insur­rec­tion. Therefore he aut­ho­ri­zed a new trans­la­ti­on that would make clear that the­re were only two alter­na­ti­ves: flight and fight. And if Jesus says do not resist one that was evil, it sounds like he’s say­ing don’t fight, flight. I hope that‘s clear, I worked on it all morning. Thus Jesus is made to aut­ho­ri­ze mon­ar­chi­cal abso­lu­tism. Submission to the powers that be, the King insists, is the will of God and most trans­la­tors have mee­kly fol­lo­wed this path until this very day.

Jesus is not tel­ling us to sub­mit to evil, but to refu­se to oppo­se it on its own terms.

He is urging us to trans­cend both pas­si­vi­ty and vio­lence by fin­ding a third way, one that is at once asser­ti­ve and yet nonviolent.

The three examp­les that fol­low con­firm this reading.

Part 2 – Video Recording here.

If anyo­ne strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.

And now I need two hel­pers to come for­ward — Al and Gi.

Yes, thank you.

Al, you‘ll be here and Guide, you‘ll be here, and I‘ll stand behind here.

Al, you can be the hit­ter and Guide, you can be the hittie.

You son, have a rif­le … not a rif­le, not a rifle.

Inaudible

Careful men, don‘t push.

Now, what‘s wrong with that blow …?

Jesus said „right cheek“ — very explicitly.

Alright, hit his right … wait (poin­ting at right cheek of hittie)

Sure, it‘s the left hand.

What‘s wrong with that? Wrong arm, can‘t use the right arm for that side.

Can you use the left arm for any public action?

It was used for wiping your ass. (laugh­ter)

How, with your right hand, can you hit his right cheek?

What‘s the only pos­si­ble blow? With the back hand …

And the back­hand is not for inju­ring peop­le. It is for humi­lia­ting peop­le, degrading.

Masters back­han­ded slaves, hus­bands wives, par­ents child­ren, Romans Jews.

(it’s alright one down, isn’t it – not clea­ry pronounced)

It’s always inser­ting a per­son back in the social role he had, he play­ed, as an inferior.

The who­le point was to for­ce someo­ne, who was out of line, to get back in line.

Notice Jesus’s audi­ence here. If anyo­ne strikes you, the kind of peop­le Jesus was tal­king to, slaves, the­se are peop­le who are used to being thus degra­ded, he is say­ing to them refu­se to accept this kind of tre­at­ment any­mor. You‘re back­handed?Turn the other cheek.

Okay, get a litt­le clo­ser. Backhand him.

Alright Keith, now you turn the other cheek.

Just a second now, what are you gon­na do?

Al: I have not­hing to do. I don’t know what to do.

Walter: His nose is in the way, isn‘t it? (Laughter)

And any­way, it’s like tel­ling a joke twice. If it did­n’t work the first time, it won‘t work the second time eit­her. (Laughter)

The left cheek now offers a per­fect tar­get for a blow with the fist, but only equals fought with fists, as we know from Jewish sources and the last thing the mas­ter wis­hes to do is to estab­lish this under­lings equality.

This act of defi­an­ce ren­ders the mas­ter inca­pa­ble of asser­ting his domi­nan­ce in this rela­ti­ons­hip. He can have this litt­le slave bea­ten, but he can intimi­da­te him no lon­ger. By tur­ning the cheek then, the infe­ri­or par­ty is saying:

I’m not infe­ri­or to you. I’m a human being. I refu­se to be humi­lia­ted any lon­ger. I am your equal. I’m a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.

Such defi­an­ce is no way to avoid trou­ble. Meak acquie­scence2 is what the mas­ter wants.

Such chee­ky beha­vi­or (laugh­ter) make lead to flog­ging or worse. Even killing.

But the point has been made.

The powers that be have lost their power to make peop­le sub­mit, and when lar­ge num­bers begin beha­ving thus – and Jesus was alrea­dy depic­ted as addres­sing a crowd – you have a social revo­lu­ti­on on your hands.

In that world of Honor and Shaming the supe­ri­or has been ren­de­red impo­tent to stick instill shame in a sub­or­di­na­te. He’s been strip­ped of his power to dehu­ma­ni­ze the other.

As Gandhi taught the first princip­le of non­vio­lent action is that of non-com­pli­an­ce with ever­ything humiliating.

How dif­fe­rent this is from the usu­al view, that this pas­sa­ge tea­ches us to turn the other cheek, so our bat­te­rer can sim­ply clob­ber us again. How often this inter­pre­ta­ti­on has been fed to bat­te­red wives and child­ren. And it was never what Jesus inten­ded in the least.

For such vic­tims, he advi­ses: Stand up for your­sel­ves! Take con­trol of your respon­ses! Don’t ans­wer the opp­res­sor in kind, but find a new, third way, that is neit­her coward­ly sub­mis­si­on, nor vio­lent reprisal.

Jesus‘s second examp­le of asser­ti­ve non-vio­lence is said in a court of law.

A credi­tor has taken a poor man to court over an unpaid loan. Only the poo­rest of the poor were sub­jec­ted to such tre­at­ment. Deuteronomy 243 pro­vi­ded that a credi­tor could take as col­la­te­ral for a loan a poor man’s long outer robe, but it had to be retur­ned each evening, so that the poor per­son would have some­thing in which to sleep. Jesus is not advi­sing peop­le to add to their dis­ad­van­ta­ge, by pro­noun­cing jus­ti­ce altog­e­ther, and so many com­men­ta­tors have sug­gested, he is tel­ling impo­ve­ris­hed deb­tors, that they have not­hing left, but the clothes on their backs, to use the sys­tem against its­elf. Indebtedness was a pla­gue in first century‘s Palestine. Jesus’s para­bles are full of deb­tors, struggling to sal­va­ge their lives. Heavy debt was not howe­ver a natu­ral cala­mi­ty, that had over­ta­ken the incom­pe­tent. It was the direct con­se­quence of Roman Imperial poli­cy, givers tax the wealt­hy – hea­vi­ly –to fund their Wars and bank­roll the bureau­cra­cy. The rich natu­ral­ly natu­ral­ly sought non-liquid invest­ments to hide their wealth. Land was best, but it was ances­tral­ly owned and pas­sed down over genera­ti­ons and no peasant would vol­un­ta­ri­ly relin­quish it. However, exor­bi­tant inte­rest from twen­ty-five to two hund­red and fif­ty per­cent could be used to dri­ve lan­dow­ners ever deeper into debt and debt, cou­pled with the high taxa­ti­on requi­red to pay roman tri­bu­ne, crea­ted the eco­no­mic leverage to pry Galilean peas­ants loo­se from their land. That sounds kind of fami­li­ar. (Laugther)

By the time of Jesus we see this pro­cess alrea­dy far advan­ced. Large esta­tes, owned by absen­tee landlords, mana­ged by ste­wards and worked by ten­ant far­mers, day labo­rers and slaves, many of whom had form­er­ly been landowners.

It’s no acci­dent, that the very first acts of Jewish revo­lu­tio­na­ries in 66 AD, when the Roman war began the first act, was to burn the temp­le tre­a­su­ry, whe­re the record of debt was kept.

Their own temple.

Part 3 – Video Recording here.

It is into this situa­ti­on that Jesus speaks.

As befo­re, his hea­rers are the poor. If anyo­ne would sue you. They share a ran­kling hat­red for a sys­tem that sub­jects them to humi­lia­ti­on, by strip­ping them of their lands, their goods, and final­ly even their outer garments.

Why, then, does Jesus coun­sel them to give over their underg­arments as well?

This would mean strip­ping off all their clot­hing, and mar­ching out of court stark naked. They did­n’t have jockey under­wa­re, folks. There was two items of clot­hing, the outer in the inner.

But naked­ness was taboo in Judaism. Shame fell less on the naked par­ty, rather than on the per­son viewing or causing the nakedness.

Remember the sto­ry of Noah. Noah was naked and drunk, and the son loo­ked upon his father’s naked­ness, and the son was cur­sed. The son, not the father.

By strip­ping the deb­tor has brought shame on the credi­tor. There stands the credi­tor, cove­r­ed with shame, the poor deb­tors outer garment in one hand, his underg­arment in the other. The tables have sud­den­ly been tur­ned on the credi­tor. The deb­tor had no hope of win­ning the case, the law was ent­i­re­ly in the credi­tors favor.

But the poor man has trans­cen­ded this attempt to humi­lia­te. He has risen abo­ve shame. At the same time he has regis­tered a stun­ning pro­test against the sys­tem that crea­ted his debt. He has said in effect:

You want my robe? Here, take ever­ything! Now you’­ve got all I have, except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?

Imagine the deb­tor lea­ving court naked. His friends and neigh­bors aghast inqui­re: What hap­pen­ed? He exp­lains. They join his gro­wing pro­ces­si­on, which now resem­bles a vic­to­ry para­de. This is guer­ril­la thea­ter, folks!

The ent­i­re sys­tem by which deb­tors are oppres­sed has been publicly unmas­ked. The credi­tors reve­a­led to be not a legi­ti­ma­te money­len­der, but a par­ty to the reduc­tion of an ent­i­re social class, to land­less­ness and destitution.

This unmas­king is not sim­ply puni­ti­ve, howe­ver. Since it offers the credi­tor a chan­ce to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his prac­ti­ces cau­se and to repent. The powers-that-be liter­al­ly stand on their digni­ty. Nothing defla­tes them more effec­tively, than debt lam­poo­ning. By refu­sing to be awed by their power, the power­less are embol­den­ed to seek the initia­ti­ve, even when struc­tu­ral chan­ge is not immedia­te­ly pos­si­ble. This mes­sa­ge, far from coun­sel­ling and unat­tainab­le other­world­ly per­fec­tion, is a prac­ti­cal, stra­te­gic fail­u­re for empowe­ring the oppressed.

It’s being lived out all over the world today by pre­vious­ly power­less peop­le, rea­dy to take their histo­ry into their own hands, even if it cost them their lives. Time clock.

Shortly befo­re the fall of poli­ti­cal apart­heid in South Africa, poli­ce descen­ded on a squat­ters camp, that they have long wan­ted to demo­lish. They gave the few women the­re five minu­tes to gather their pos­ses­si­ons, and then the bull­do­zers would level the shacks. The women, appar­ent­ly sen­sing the resi­du­al, puri­ta­ni­cal streak in rural Afrikaners, strip­ped naked befo­re the bull­do­zers. The poli­ce tur­ned and fled.

The last I heard that camp still stands.

The dif­fe­rence is, they’­re now get­ting electri­ci­ty and water.

Could I have the help of two more vol­un­te­ers? Ann and Brian.

Creditor Ann:

Sailing back in three mon­ths, but not­hing ever hap­pens, and now I’m get­ting a litt­le tired of this, I need my money, I real­ly… When you‘re gon­na pay?

Debtor Brian: Well, what she says is true, but I’ve been sick, my wife‘s just had ano­t­her baby and the flocks just run amok, and I’ve been working as hard as I can, man she can’t give ano­t­her ounce.

Judge: Have you paid her anything at all?

Debtor Brian: I have not­hing to pay her.

Judge: Can you give her your coat, this morning?

Debtor Brian:

Well, I can give this, but it’s cold at night. and if I give this, I won’t have much.

Judge: The law requi­res this, you have to give this. is good you have to it was a 17 and every night

Creditor Ann: So you just come to my house, you know, at 9 p.m. and I’ll give it back. And then you come back, you bring it back to me the next morning.

Debtor Brian: It‘s cold.

Ann: …

Debtor Brian: If you’­re gon­na take the jacket, you might as well take this (takes of his shirt)

You need this one. In fact, here. (Gives his watch.)

You will know the time to come.

(Laughter)

(Takes of his belt and gives it to her.) You need to hold some­thing up with this.

And I won‘t need the­se, eit­her … (starts taking off his pants.)

Judge oders to halt this acti­vi­ty. Brian con­ti­nues. Big laugh­ter, fun, and applause.

You can ima­gi­ne the peop­le in the crowd, respon­ding in the way you’­ve been responding.

This is fun­ny. I want those.

Jesus‘s tea­ching on non­vio­lence pro­vi­des a hint of how to take on the ent­i­re sys­tem, by unmas­king it’s essen­ti­al cru­el­ty and bur­les­qing its pre­ten­ces to jus­ti­ce. Those who lis­ten will no lon­ger be trea­ted as spon­ges to be squee­zed dry by the rich.

They can accept the law, as they stand. Push them to absur­di­ty and reve­al them for what they are. They can strip naked, walk out befo­re befo­re their fel­lows, and lea­ve the credi­tors and the who­le eco­no­mic edi­fice they repre­sent stark naked.

Part 4– Video Recording here.

Jesus‘s third examp­le. If any one of the occup­a­ti­on tro­ops for­ces you to car­ry us back one-mile, car­ry it two. This examp­le is drawn from the rela­tively enligh­te­ned prac­ti­ce of limi­t­ing to a sin­gle mile the amount of for­ced or oppres­sed labor, that Roman sol­di­ers could levy on sub­ject peo­p­les. The Angaria. The Angeria said that sol­di­ers had the right to for­ce civi­li­ans to car­ry their pack, but reas­suming after one mile.

Such com­pul­so­ry ser­vice was a con­stant fea­ture from Persian to late Roman times. Whoever was found on the street could be coer­ced into ser­vice, as was Simon of Cyrene. He was for­ced to car­ry Jesus’s cross. That was the Angeria. Armies had to be moved with dis­patch. Ranking legion­aires bought slaves or don­keys to car­ry their packs, some six­ty to eigh­ty five pounds, not inclu­ding wea­pons. The majo­ri­ty of the rank-and-file, howe­ver, had to depend on impres­sed civi­li­ans. Whole vil­la­ges some­ti­mes fled in order to avoid being for­ced to car­ry soldier‘s baggage.

Well we’­ve over­loo­ked in this pas­sa­ge is the fact that, car­ry­ing the packa­ges a second mile is an infrac­tion of mili­ta­ry code. With few excep­ti­ons, minor infrac­tions were left to the Disciplinary con­trol of the Centurion. He was the head of 100 men. He might find the offen­ding sol­dier, he‘ll flog him or put him on a rati­on of bar­ley ins­tead of wheat, or make him camp out­side the for­ti­fi­ca­ti­ons, or for­ce him to stand all day befo­re the gene­ral …., hol­ding a cloud of dirt in his hands or, if the offen­der was a bud­dy, issue a mild reprimand.

But the point is that that the sol­dier does not know what will hap­pen. It’s in this con­text of Roman mili­ta­ry occup­a­ti­on, that Jesus speaks. He does not coun­sel revolt. One does not befriend the sol­dier, draw him asi­de and dri­ve a kni­fe into his ribs. Jesus must surely awa­re of the futi­li­ty of armed insur­rec­tion against Roman Imperial might. He cer­tain­ly did not­hing to encou­ra­ge tho­se who­se hat­red of Rome would soon explo­de into violence.

But why car­ry the soldier‘s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the oppo­si­te extre­me, by aiding and abet­ting4 the enemy. Not at all! The ques­ti­on here is, as in the two pre­vious instan­ces, how the oppres­sed can reco­ver the initia­ti­ve and assert their human digni­ty. In the situa­ti­on that can­not for the time being be chan­ged. The rules are Caesar‘s. But how one responds to the rules is God’s. And Caesar has no power over the­re. Imagine then the soldier‘s sur­pri­se, when at the next mile mar­ker, he reluc­tant­ly reaches to assu­me his pack and the civi­li­an says: „Oh no, let me car­ry it ano­t­her mile.“ – „Why would you want to do that? What’s up, dude?“ Normally sol­di­ers have to coer­ce peop­le to car­ry their packs, but this dude does so cheer­ful­ly and will not stop. Is this a pro­vo­ca­ti­on? Is he insul­ting the Legionnaire‘s strength? Being kind? Trying to get a disci­pli­ned for see­ming to vio­la­te the rules of impress­ment? Will the civi­li­an file a com­p­laint? Create trouble?

Let‘s go by this one.

Yes! This is the Centurion. Okay. You are the sol­dier. I am the peasant.

Soldier: „Peasant! Carry my bag! One Mile!“

Peasant: „I got to get back to the field…“

Soldier: „No, you are com­man­ded to do it right now!“

Peasant: „Oh, God …“

Soldier: „Okay, the mile is up! I‘ll have my bag back. Give my bag back!“

(Peasant chats about God, keeps car­ry­ing the pack.)

Peasant: „Are you the Centurion?!“

Centurion: „I most cer­tain­ly am!“

Peasant: „This is my second mile, boss.“

Centurion: „You had this peasant car­ry your pack two miles?!“

Soldier: „It was a mistake.“

Centurion: „You know what the rules are, here! We are not here to make this peas­ants sick.“

Peasant: „It‘s all my fault. I star­ted tal­king to him about Jesus and I got car­ri­ed away.“

Centurion: „Go back to the field, I don’t want to hear about it.“

Centurion: „We‘ll see you at seven o‘clock and we will deci­de what your punish­ment will be.“

Soldier, salu­ting, signing off.

From a situa­ti­on of ser­vi­le impress­ment, the oppres­sed have once more sei­zed the initia­ti­ve. They’ve taken back to the power of choice. They have thrown the sol­dier off-balan­ce by depri­ving him of the pre­dic­ta­bi­li­ty of his vic­tims respon­se. He has never dealt with such a pro­blem befo­re. Now he must make a decisi­on for which not­hing in his pre­vious expe­ri­ence has pre­pa­red him. If he has enjoy­ed fee­ling supe­ri­or to the van­quis­hed, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infan­try man plea­ding with a Jew to give him back his pack. „Oy, give me back my pack!“ The humor of this sce­ne must have escaped us, but it scar­ce­ly had been lost on Jesus. He must have been deligh­ted at the pro­spect of this dis­com­for­ting of their oppressors.

Jesus does not encou­ra­ge Jews to walk the Second Mile, in order to build up merit in hea­ven, or to be pious or to kill the sol­dier with kind­ness. Rather he is hel­ping an oppres­sed peop­le to find a way to pro­test and neu­tra­li­ze an one­rous5 prac­ti­ce, des­pi­sed throughout the empire.

He is not giving a non-poli­ti­cal mes­sa­ge of spi­ri­tu­al world trans­cen­dence. No. He is for­mu­la­ting a world­ly spi­ri­tua­li­ty, in which the peop­le at the bot­tom of socie­ty or under the thumb of the impe­ri­al power can learn to reco­ver their humanity.

One could easi­ly use Jesus‘s advice vin­dic­tively. That is why we must not sepa­ra­te it from the com­mand to love enemies, that is inte­gral­ly con­nec­ted with it in Matthew and Luke.

But love is not aver­se to taking the law and using its opp­res­si­ve momen­tum to throw the sol­dier into a regi­on of uncer­tain­ty and anxie­ty, that he has never befo­re known.

Part 5– Video Recording here.

These three examp­les then ampli­fy what Jesus means in his the­sis state­ment „Don’t react vio­lent­ly against the one who is evil.“ Instead of two depen­ded? opti­ons, ing­rai­ned in us by mil­li­ons of years from thre­ats from the envi­ron­ment and other peop­le – flight or fight – Jesus offers a third way.

This new way marks a his­to­ric muta­ti­on in human deve­lo­p­ment. The revolt against the princip­le of natu­ral selec­tion. With Jesus a way emer­ges by which evil can be oppo­sed without being mirrored.

It’s too bad that Jesus did not pro­vi­de 15 or 20 fur­ther role plays. so we don’t have Since we do not tend natu­ral­ly to this respon­se to tho­se things. But you know, Gene Shark, one of the gre­at wri­ters in the area of non-vio­lence has 598 non-vio­lent types of action, under which many, many listings.

To tho­se who­se lifel­ong pat­tern has been to crin­ge befo­re their mas­ters, Jesus offers a way to libe­ra­te them­sel­ves from ser­vi­le actions and the ser­vi­le men­ta­li­ty and he asserts that they can do this befo­re the­re is a revo­lu­ti­on. There’s no need to wait till Rome is defea­ted, slaves are free peas­ants of land. They can begin to behave with digni­ty and reco­ve­r­ed huma­ni­ty now, even under the unch­an­ged con­di­ti­ons of the old order.

Jesus‘s sen­se of divi­ne immedi­a­cy has social impli­ca­ti­ons. The reign of God is alrea­dy brea­king into the world and it comes not as an impo­si­ti­on from on high, but as the lemons slow­ly causing the dough to rise, as in Jesus’s para­ble of the lea­ven. Jesus‘s tea­ching on non­vio­lence is thus inte­gral to his pro­cla­ma­ti­on of the daw­ning of the reign of God. here was inde­ed a way to resist the powers that be without being made over into their likeness.

Jesus did not endor­se armed revo­lu­ti­on. It is not hard to see why. In the con­di­ti­ons of first cen­tu­ry Palestine, vio­lent revo­lu­ti­on against the Romans pro­ved cata­stro­phic. But it did­n’t lay the foun­da­ti­ons for a social revo­lu­ti­on. And a social revo­lu­ti­on beco­mes poli­ti­cal when it reaches a thres­hold a cri­ti­cal thres­hold of accep­t­ance. This in fact did hap­pen to the Roman Empire, as the Christian Church over­ca­me it from below and was in turn over­ca­me by the Roman Empire from abo­ve, in the form of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Nor were peas­ants and slaves in a posi­ti­on to trans­form the eco­no­mic sys­tem by fron­tal ass­ault, but they could begin to act from an alrea­dy reco­ve­r­ed digni­ty and free­dom. They could crea­te wit­hin the shell of the old socie­ty the foun­da­ti­ons of God’s domi­na­ti­on free order. They can begin living as if the reign of God was alrea­dy arri­ved. This this is not pie in the sky idea­lism. It was liter­al­ly enac­ted in Poland, when in 1980 the labor uni­on Soli­da­ri­ty was orga­ni­zed in defi­an­ce of the com­mu­nist regime. After a year and a half Soli­da­ri­ty was decla­red ille­gal and mar­ti­al law was impo­sed. Soli­da­ri­ty appeared to have disap­peared altog­e­ther, but in fact it had gone under­ground, with his own uni­ver­si­ties and secon­da­ry schools being held in pri­va­te homes, poe­try rea­dings, con­certs, in fact all the ele­ments of a dyna­mic socie­ty. When the Communists rulers foo­lish­ly cal­led a snap elec­tion to endor­se their rule, Soli­da­ri­ty sud­den­ly reap­peared and won all 98 con­tes­ted seats in par­la­ment. They had not been des­troy­ed. Rather they had built by non­vio­lent means a demo­cra­tic shell wit­hin the shell of the old decrepit rule.

To an oppres­sed peop­le Jesus is say­ing: Do not con­ti­nue to acquie­sce in your opp­res­si­on by the powers, but do not react vio­lent­ly to them eit­her. Rather find that third way, a way that is neit­her sub­mis­si­on nor ass­ault, neit­her flight nor fight, a way that can secu­re your human digni­ty and begin to chan­ge the power equa­ti­on, even now, befo­re the revo­lu­ti­on. Turn your cheek, thus indi­ca­ting to the one who back­hands you, that attempts to shame you into ser­vi­li­ty, have fai­led. Strip naked and para­de out of court, thus taking the momen­tum of the law and the who­le debt eco­no­my and flip­ping them, Aikido like, in the bur­les­que of lega­li­ty. Walk a second mile, sur­pri­sing the Occupational by pla­cing them in jeo­par­dy with their supe­ri­ors. In short, take the law and push it to the point of absur­di­ty. These are of cour­se not rules to be fol­lo­wed lega­listic, but examp­les to spark an infi­ni­te varie­ty of crea­ti­ve respon­ses in new and chan­ging cir­cum­s­tan­ces. They break the cycle of humi­lia­ti­on with humor and even ridi­cu­le, expo­sing the injus­ti­ce of the sys­tem. They reco­ver for the poor a modi­cum of initia­ti­ve that can for­ce the opp­res­sors to see them in a new light. Jesus is not by advo­ca­ting non­vio­lence merely as a tech­ni­que for out­wit­ting the enemy, but as a just means of oppo­sing the enemy in a way that holds open the pos­si­bi­li­ty of the enemy’s beco­m­ing just also. If pos­si­ble we want both sides to win. This is necessa­ry, sin­ce we will usual­ly have to live with our oppon­ents after the con­flict is over, as in South-Africa.

We are sum­mo­ned to pray for our enemies‘ trans­for­ma­ti­on and respond to ill tre­at­ment with love. The logic of Jesus examp­les in Matthew goes bey­ond both inac­tion and over­re­ac­tion to a new respon­se. fired in the cru­ci­ble of love that pro­mi­ses to libe­ra­te the oppres­sed from evil even as it frees the opp­res­sor from sin.

Do not react vio­lent­ly to evil. Do not coun­ter evil in kind. Do not let evil dic­ta­te the terms of your oppo­si­ti­on. Do not let vio­lence lead you to mir­ror your own. Don’t beco­me the very thing you hate.

This forms the revo­lu­tio­na­ry princip­le, that Jesus arti­cu­la­tes as the basis for non­vio­lent­ly enga­ging the powers. Jesus abhors both pas­si­vi­ty and vio­lence. He arti­cu­la­tes out of the histo­ry of his own people‘s strug­gles a way by which the opp­res­sor can be resis­ted without being emu­la­ted, and the enemy neu­tra­li­zed without being des­troy­ed. Those who live by Jesus’s words point us to a new way of con­fron­ting evil, who­se poten­ti­al for per­so­nal and social trans­for­ma­ti­on we are only begin­ning to grasp today.

Transcript, John Gather 2019

1 Quote from a page enti­t­led The Difference Between the Geneva and King James Bibles: „The mar­gi­nal notes throughout the 1560 and 1599 Geneva Bibles ques­tio­ned the aut­ho­ri­ty of the Catholic Church and any ruling mon­ar­chy. That his sub­jects might ques­ti­on his aut­ho­ri­ty becau­se of this text was a pro­blem for King James I.“

2 In German „Demütige Ergebung“

3 Deuteronmy 24,10: „When you make a loan of any kind to your neigh­bor, do not go into their house to get what is offe­red to you as a pledge. 11 Stay out­side and let the neigh­bor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the neigh­bor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your pos­ses­si­on. 13 Return their cloak by sun­set so that your neigh­bor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regar­ded as a righ­te­ous act in the sight of the Lord your God.

4 German: begünstigen

5 German: bescher­lich, lästig