Turn the other cheek. Hand over your cloak. Go for two miles. Do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Don’t be a doormat. Stand up for yourself. Help others. Go the extra mile. Live mercifully. Share what you have with others.
I am struck by how often Walter Wink’s take on this Sunday’s Gospel continues to feed by spirit, my soul, my heart, and my actions. In The Powers That Be, Wink explains just how Jesus’ suggestion opens up a third response in each of us and our relationships. Wink writes:
“The Domination System is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all.”
Jesus saw the political structure for what it was, a system that benefitted some people, not all.
“The Domination System must have a domination myth, a story that explains how things got this way. The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.”
This Myth of Redemptive Violence is alive and well as we continue to hear global stories of war and conflict as solutions for our current personal, social and environmental crises.
Jesus is offering a third way, especially to people who feel oppressed, beaten down, and taken advantage of. The very system created to take care of each person is, in fact, the very system that is endangering those on the margins. Law enforcement is great when people stray from respecting one another and one another’s property. But if law enforcement becomes abusive and excessive, and does not view people as human beings, it must be reformed.
Take, for the example, the situation with the Roman soldier. How do we make this relevant for today? If Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek, does he really want us to just give our attacker another chance to hit us? Wink says no. There were rules on how Roman soldiers could have used force. They could only hit using the back of the hand, not the palm. The palm suggested a gesture of comradery and friendship. Jesus was suggesting that we turn the other cheek so that the attacker can see us as another fellow human being, not a punching bag to be fought.
I’m desperate to see what our responses to attacks on humanity will look like.
The other day some of my students organized a conversation between members of our Respect Life Club and Gender Equality And Rights (GEAR) Club. Instead of using the ever so popular debate format, we chose a different way. First we invited each participant to share a hope they had for the conversation. Next we invited the first three people to share with those around the table why they marched on that Saturday after the inauguration. “I marched because I want young women to know they have more options than abortion.” “I marched because I believe women should have the right to decide what should happen to their own bodies.” “I marched because I couldn’t decide and I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings if I didn’t show up.” “I marched because I want every single person to be seen and treated with human dignity and respect.” Finally, we concluded with the hope they will walk away with.
We didn’t solve the age-old battle between the right-to-life movement and the pro-choice movement, but the thickness of the ice between people melted away only to give water to the soil of compassion, connection, dignity, respect, and a sense of wholeness. We felt united together as we sat there unwilling to end the moment and return to our daily lives. This unity was not about agreement. This unity was about being seen, being heard, listening to others, and feeling connected.
We are made to be connected to one another. When we forget that, we destroy a part of our selves. “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Let us dare to find a third way that counters the status quo and helps us to see, yet again, one another’s human dignity. This will take thoughtfulness, effort, and much practice. Let us commit to trying with one another so that the life of abundance God promised us can be realized by all.
Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Help yourself. Help others. All the while, know that Jesus set the example for us to follow. Dismantle the system of domination by resisting with the value of human dignity, one person at a time.