This is excerpted from the larger weekly Heretic’s Guide to the Bible Study. To read more, CLICK HERE, or on the banners above or below.
It is an interesting time in the lectionary to have many of these texts come up. Several of them (aside from the gospel text) seem to focus on the supremacy of the God of Israel over all other earthly and non-earthly forces and authorities. There are predictions of doom and gloom for those who do not believe in God, for those who believe in the wrong God, and for those who place their faith in earthly leaders. Pretty much, the only ones it works out well for those who are on the sides of the authors.
These texts – and especially the Psalm – stand in stark contrast to the commandment by Jesus to love those who hate and persecute us. He deconstructs the idea that those who were faithful will receive a just reward in this life. Though they may earn God’s favor and blessing, they may still be reviled, hungry and poor.
He goes further by explaining precisely what we should do when struck by another person. He says that all acts of hate, violence, aggression and injustice should be repaid with an equal measure of love, compassion and patience. But it is important to understand why Jesus is asking us to do what he is asking of us. He doesn’t just want us to be meek and mild punching bags, the proverbial doormats of the world, upon whom everyone will wipe their feet in disdain and run over at every turn.
Keep in mind that Luke in particular is fascinated with paradigm shattering reversals. He wants to see the life and teaching of Jesus flip the entire world order on its head. And how can this possibly be achieved if we keep doing what we have always done?
It is clear to the authors of the Gospels and to Jesus that the old ways, though perhaps understandable and even scripturally justified, have not necessarily gotten us closer to realizing God’s kingdom on earth. For this to happen, the entire system of human behavior, from economics and politics to family dynamics and even religion, must be challenged and often subverted.
To this point, order has been maintained through force. The rulers may have changed, but for the most part, the rules have not. One oppressor defeats and replaces another; one sword is smashed by another, which then is then wielded over those it has defeated.
But Jesus wants more for us. He wants wholeness, not just victory. The true blessing that we seek from God is not simply to be better than the other, but rather for all to coexist within a reality that affords no one any power or status over another. Can the simple turn of a cheek really achieve this? Can one man’s life, innocently lost through crucifixion really make any difference? For each of us, this is a question that must be answered through prayerful reflection and study. But once we have arrived at our conclusion, where to live as if our lives depend on it.