Why don’t Christians take Jesus’s advice? He has given the world guidance in how we can have more peace in our lives. His advice is not for Christians alone, he came to save the world from itself. But few Christians follow his advice when it appears too ridiculous to believe. Yet that’s not following him. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without following his example or teachings. And some of his instructions are hard.
The Tao de Ching teaches that only the soft can overcome the hard. Think about it. Does God resist our evil? The ancients of Israel gave God credit for disasters and bad things happening as a punishment for idolatry, but has that held true for you? Did Jesus, as God’s incarnation, fight fire with fire or sword against sword? Did he inflict pain on people who placed religion or possessions or power ahead of love for God? No. He didn’t even resist when his false accusers couldn’t get their stories straight at his trial.
I have a crossbow. When I target practice, I shoot the arrows into a five gallon bucket that has surgical cloths all bunched up inside it. It’s actually very soft material. The arrows are stopped without doing damage to the arrows or to the bucket. The same would happen if I used a bale of hay. The soft response quickly slows the hard. Why? Because there’s nothing fighting back. Without resistance, there’s nothing to keep pushing against.
There have been some very positive advances made in the last eight years in our country, changes that couldn’t have taken place fifty years or a century ago. But the pendulum always swings back as a compensating force. We can try to resist that, or we can focus on continuing to become more Christ-like in our own worlds and let our non-resistance stop the evil that is looking for an equal and opposite force.
I do not believe in allowing injustice to happen without a fight. Hitler had to be stopped. Jesus showed evidence of actively, but non-violently, resisting the religious powers who were perpetrating ritual and ceremonial law over the care for people. I will be first in line to defend against the maltreatment of LGBTQ community by those who think heterosexuality or their religion makes them superior in any way to the rest of God’s children. However, to date, this has not become my mission in life. The word in the Gospel lesson that has been translated as “resist” carries deeper meaning than simply voicing your objections. Your voice matters in overcoming evil.
There are some very special people that God has ordained to correcting the injustices inflicted upon outcasts. Their missions are clear. They live it and breathe it. And I support them in their efforts. There are some people who feel compelled to fight the bigotry and white supremacy in our country. I support them, too. Yet I have been given a different mission, one that feeds me spiritually and gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Anger doesn’t feed my mission, and therefore, it’s a little easier for me to “not resist” some of the things going on in our worlds.
Here’s my rendering of Matt. 5:38-48:
38 “You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I am telling you not to set yourself againsta what causes pain and trouble.b But instead, anyone who slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants you to be put on trial and to take away your tunic, leave with him a cloak as well. 41 And whoever in authority compels you into service to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one asking you, and the one who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
43 “You heard it was said, ‘Be full of good willc for your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I am telling you, extend good will to your enemies, pray for those harassing you, 45 in order that you may become offspring of your Creator in the heavens; for he causes his sun to rise over those who bring hardshipsd and over those who do what is excellent; and he rains on those who do what is right and on those who don’t do what is right. 46 For if you extend good wille to those who extend good will to you, what prize do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you embrace only the members of your community, what more do you than others? Do not even pagans do so in the same way? 48 In doing so, you will reach full maturity of integrity and virtue,f in the same way your Creator in the heavens is fully reliable and virtuous.
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a , to set one’s self against, to withstand, resist, oppose.
b , the generic translation is “evil.” It has taken on an insidious definition that implies intentionality rather than to be considered according to its official definition: that which brings toils, annoyances, perils.
c agapaō, the generic translation is “love.” But that word doesn’t seem to be working in this context. No one believes you can have affection for your enemy, therefore, this is one of those teachings of Jesus that get ignored. Maybe we should try one of the other explanations of agapaō that makes it more believable and doable: to be full of good-will, wish well to, regard the welfare of. Once you have been nice to your enemy, reducing his fear that you want something of his that he regards as important, like his own trust and beliefs about God, you may find him more likeable.
d , same as footnote (b).
e agapaō, same as footnote (c).
f , usually translated as “perfection.” Good luck with reaching perfection. Try something closer to its definition: brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness. Other ways it has been understood include: (of mind and character) one who has reached the proper height of virtue and integrity; (of men) full-grown, adult; of fall age, mature.
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My encouragement to you is that you take the time to clarify for yourself what your mission is. What feeds your spirit when you do it? What do you get lost in? When does time disappear when you do it? What were you born to do? If it is from God, then you can be sure that investing yourself in it will ultimately work for the good of everything else. You cannot control the whole world. You don’t have to. Just be Christ to all those people God places in your path, and give your heart to what compels you to act in accordance with good will to every person. You will be on the path to teleios.