I was asked a while back about the notion that Matthew’s Gospel presents a “third way” between passivity on the one hand and violent resistance on the other. This viewpoint gets mentioned from time to time, but still seems not to be as widely known as it deserves.
I have long suggested that a backhanded slap would be something reflecting a power difference, rather like the way a lord might strike a servant in an episode of Downton Abbey. But I could not think of a clear example from the time of Jesus, and so I worried that I might be engaging in anachronism. And so I was grateful to have the text below (Mishnah Baba Kamma 8:6) drawn to my attention as I was reading Roman Montero’s new book on the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus’s Manifesto:
If a man cuffed or [punched] his fellow he must pay him a sela [4 zuz]. Rabbi Judah says in the name of Rabbi Jose the Galilean: One hundred zuz. If he slapped him he must pay 200 zuz. If [he struck him] with the back of his hand he must pay him 400 zuz.
Let me also share my blurb for that book, now that it is out:
Montero’s book is not simply another exposition of the ‘sermon’ of Jesus, but an exploration of how Jesus’ ethical teachings compare and contrast with those of major influential figures from the Greek world like Aristotle and Plato, as well as their connections to Israel’s ethical traditions as articulated by figures such as Isaiah and the rabbis of the Mishnah. The result is a powerful historical portrait of Jesus as a teacher in conversation with his contemporaries (as well as the past and longstanding cultural values), offering a radical vision for a community that has love as the ‘central organizing principle’ of its values and its practices.
Also related to this topic:
Eric Reitan offered suggestions on how to fight hate, with a “do” list and a “don’t” list. Let me provide an excerpt from each. First, a “don’t”:
Do not create false equivalences between the hate in the heart of anti-Semites and the reactive hate of those who have been brutalized by anti-Semitism. The call not to fight hate with hate is a reminder of how best to fight the evil of those who swim in the waters of hate. It isn’t a tool to re-victimize those who have been splashed by these waters.
And now a “do”:
Click through to read the whole thing. Also relevant to this topic:
Fight hate by recognizing its seeds in your own heart: the disdain, the condescension, the dismissal of others based on where they’re from or what they look like or what they believe or how they respond to the struggles of life. Forgive yourself for those seeds. Forgive others for those seeds.
Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
For more on this from Harvard: Why non-violent resistance beats violent force when it comes to bringing about lasting social change
I invite you to read through the Gospels and underline all the times Jesus tells someone “Your sins are forgiven.” Then, take note of how quickly Jesus says this; usually before they’ve even opened their mouth to ask him anything at all.
Here’s the reality: Jesus forgives everyone. All the time. Therefore, God also forgives everyone. All the time.
How does Jesus respond to our sins? He forgives. Completely. Automatically. One hundred percent.
Jesus never waited for anyone to repent. Jesus never asked anyone to confess. Jesus never did anything but forgive everyone he met; every single time.
We are forgiven.
And, knowing that we are so completely and effortlessly forgiven is what empowers us to freely and extravagantly forgive those who harm us.