Palimpsest: Turn the Other Cheek

Matthew 5:38-48

Then I was introduced to the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. As I read his works I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. The whole Gandhian concept of satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love and graha is force; satyagraha thus means truth-force of love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of non-violence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

When I was in Montgomery, Alabama, as a pastor in 1954, I had not the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis in which nonviolent resistance would be applicable. After I had lived in the community about a year, the bus boycott began. The Negro people of Montgomery, exhausted by the humiliating experiences that they had constantly faced on the buses, expressed in a massive act of non-co-operation their determination to be free. They came to see that it was ultimately more honourable to walk the streets in dignity than to ride the buses in humiliation. At the beginning of the protest, the people called on me to serve as their spokesman. In accepting this responsibility, my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. This principle became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation and Gandhi furnished the method. — Martin Luther King., Jr., Strength to Love

As Paul puts it, the gospel passage for today is filled with the "foolishness" of God: Turn the other cheek? Hand over your cloak? Walk the extra mile? What is this madness? One thing it's not: Jesus isn't talking martyrdom here (although that was the fate of a number of his hearers). What he's offering is transformation, both practical and theological. He's calling us to active, creative, nonviolent resistance. As Walter Wink points out in his book Engaging the Powers, Jesus is offering a way for poor, humiliated people to take the initiative against their oppressors, allowing them to restore a sense of dignity while putting their oppressors off balance—and at the same time offering them opportunities for conversion. -- Jim Rice, Sojo.net
For centuries, readers of this advice have instinctively known something was wrong with this picture. Jesus always resisted evil. Why would he tell us to behave in ways he himself refused? And that’s where the trouble starts. The Greek word translated as “resist” (antistenai), is literally “to stand (stenai) against (anti).” The term is taken from warfare. When two armies collide, they were said to “stand against” each other. The correct translation is given in the new Scholars Bible: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” The meaning is clear: don’t react in kind, don’t mirror your enemy, don’t turn into the very thing you hate. Jesus is not telling us not to resist evil, but only not to resist it violently. -- Walter Wink, “Can Love Save the World?”

· How have you interpreted these sayings of Jesus? Do you find them inspirational or difficult?
· How have you seen or experienced these teachings come to life? Does Jesus’ method work? Why or why not?