Grace and Peace to you.
Do not resist an evildoer.
If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other also;
and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat,
give your cloak as well;
and if anyone forces you to go one mile,
go also the second mile.
Jesus is not inviting us to be victims. He invites us into a prophetic act that exposes injustice without retaliating, an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that invites the oppressor to choose differently. It’s like getting arrested for sitting at the front of the bus. The only way for a right handed person to hit someone on the right cheek is with a backhanded slap, which is not an assault, but an insult. Offering the other cheek is not a way of getting beat up worse; it’s a way of saying, “Do you see what you’re doing? Do you really want to do this? I have made my choice not to retaliate. Now you have a choice.”
A law in Exodus 22.26-27 prohibits keeping someone’s cloak; it is their survival. To give your cloak to one who sues you puts them in an obvious position of law-breaker, exposing their selfishness and inviting them to see that you have chosen generosity. They now have a choice.
A roman soldier can compel a citizen to carry their burden for a mile, but no more. Going another mile puts the soldier in the obvious position of oppressor. You have made your choice of service; now he is in a position to recognize his abuse of power, and take back his burden.
Nonviolence is not timidity. It’s not accepting an abusive relationship. (The way to turn the other cheek is to leave.) It requires great personal courage, and real risk, to expose injustice by being openly vulnerable to it. It requires that we respect the oppressor and that we stay in relationship with them, which is not easy if they’re being cruel. It also requires deep trust in God’s grace, both for your own well-being and also for the oppressor’s awakening. This is what it means to take up your cross: in love to bear the sins of the world in order to bring about reconciliation, leaving the eventual outcome to God. Its effectiveness is not up to us. The outcome is not ours to decide; only our own choices are. Often the “outcome” is visible only after hundreds or thousands or maybe even millions of such choices. But when we live in love and courage in the face of injustice we create the possibility of change.
Have courage. Change the world. Choose love.
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