We awoke here in America this morning, March 22, 2016, to the report of another terrorist attack in Europe; this time in Brussels, Belgium. And I will grieve with so many others because of the injuries and loss of life, I also could not help but think about what it is that we, as a society and inhabitants of this planet, must do to limit such seemingly senseless acts of violence.
I realize that these acts may seem senseless to each one of us but in the minds of those who carry out the acts, there is a reason for them. Even the simply act of killing those whom you do not like is a rationale for killing. But we have to begin asking why or we will never have a day of peace.
Now, for some, the only response to violence and terrorism is to respond in kind. But to do so only invites more violence. Violence begets violence and the only way anyone wins in that scenario is to be the last one standing. And what have you won then?
Now, I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. But I do believe that there are non-violent solutions to the problems of terrorism in this world today.
Perhaps the response needs to be more biblical or spiritual. My response will be a Christian response. I suspect that there are many Muslims who can and will offer a similar Islamic response.
Note – do not tell me that what occur today was any where related to Islam. Those who perpetrate such actions and justify their actions as an extension of Islam are no better those who perpetrate violence in the name of Christ and proclaim it is an extension of Christianity. I do not believe that God, in all His wisdom and with all His power, would ever say that one group of individuals truly represent Him and have the power to attack others in His Name. And if you response is that your god is better than my god (deliberate use of lower case), then you do not understand your god or my god.
Many are quick to quote the passage from Exodus (Exodus 21: 23 – 25) as the basis for revenge but it was never intended to be used in that manner. In truth, the writers of the Old Testament saw this a limit to punishment rather than revenge. And then Jesus came along and said,
You’ve also heard the saying, ‘Take an eye for an eye, take a tooth for a tooth.’ But I’m telling you, never respond with evil. Instead, if someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the other one too. And if anybody wants to drag you into court and take away your shirt, let him have your undershirt. If somebody make you go a mile for him, go two miles. Give to him who asks of you, and don’t turn your back on anyone who wants a loan.
Another thing you’ve always heard is, ‘Love your own group and hate the hostile outsider.’ But I’m telling you, love the outsiders and pray for those who try to do you in, so that you might be sons of your spiritual Father. For he lets his sun rise on both sinners and saints, and he sends rain on both good people and bad. Listen here, if you love only those who love you, what’s your advantage? Don’t even scalawags do that much? And if you speak to no one but your friends, how are you any different? Don’t the non-Christians do as much? Now you, you all must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature. – Matthew 5: 38 – 48 as written in The Cotton Patch Gospel by Clarence Jordan
There is a message to these words from Christ, words that are not offered up. You need to know that what Jesus was suggesting was neither violent resistance or passive acceptance of oppression. Rather, He was advocating a third alternative, an assertive but non-violent form of protest.
And the key to understanding this is to pay attention to the social customs of Israel at that time and what how those who heard those words would have understood them. Notice that Jesus specified that the person had been struck on the right cheek. How does one strike another on the right cheek? You can only be struck on the right cheek if the other person uses their left hand or with a backhand blow from the right hand.
But one did not use the left hand to strike people (for a number of reasons) so it meant that you had to be backhanded with the right hand as a superior would treat an inferior. Striking someone with one’s fist was only done among equals. But when you turn the other cheek, you force your oppressor to either you to treat you as an equal.
Each of the other ‘commandments’ reinforce this same idea. Roman law at that time allowed Roman soldiers to force citizens to carry their weapons for one mile but no more than a mile. By carrying the load the extra mile, the soldier who commanded you could get in trouble or he would have to wrestle his gear from the subject.
In a world where all many people had was their coat and an inner garment (a cloak), the coat was their blanket at night. The law allowed the seizure of the coat for non-payment of debt but when Jesus said give them your cloak as well, it was a statement saying, ‘see what the system is doing to you.’ And in being naked, you shamed the person who was watching. (Adapted from the “True Meaning of Turn The Other Cheek” by Marcus Borg)
So Jesus response to oppression was not passivity or oppression; it was to put the oppressor on the defensive. And how do we do that today? Certainly, it is not by building walls or increasing security to the point where freedom becomes a distant memory.
It begins by taking away the source or cause of repression. It begins by asking why there are those who seek peace outside their own homelands and asking why we are not making a more concerted effort to establish peace in those lands.
It begins by making sure that every person has a true and equal opportunity in this world. The monies that we spend on armaments and war could be better spent building homes and schools and finding ways to insure that the hungry are fed, the sick are cured.
And maybe if we begin to see each other as equals, the same in God’s eyes, even when we do not believe the same, then things will change.
Our first inclination today was most certainly to strike back, to seek revenge. But that is and never has been the answer. The answer is to do not what you think you should do but rather what you are supposed to do, love each other as you have been loved.