You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
A group of protesters walked past us. They were mostly the poorest of the poor. They were protesting a recent violent episode involving the police in their shanty-town like community. A young unarmed teen was shot in an enclosed shack while being interrogated. His mother was standing outside when this happened. She assured minutes before by the police that it was just a formal questioning. She had nothing to worry about until she heard the gunshot. It was something that happened too frequently. The people were peaceful as they passed by. However, their faces revealed a deep sadness and a sense of hopelessness.
Just a few minutes before, we witnessed a violent altercation. It was over something trivial that is not even worth mentioning. It seems like it does not take much to start fight. It involved a homeless adult and one of our most fragile teens, Alex. The adult started physically attacking the boy. A complete stranger and I had to get involved to curb things from escalating any further. Thankfully everything ended with minimum damage. The stranger was with his wife and children. They had come to streets to distribute blankets to the homeless. Perhaps the father wanted his children to develop a sense of compassion for the homeless. Instead, they witnessed an act of violence. If they had come today, it would have been completely different. There was laughter and camaraderie but they came on a day of violence. It was truly that kind of day. Maybe it was the perfect day to learn about compassion.
In reality, everyday is a day of violence. I wish it was just my opinion but all our news sources tell us that this is the way of the world. Ever since Cain, violence has become part and parcel of our human nature. Since I don’t have access to anyone’s personal thoughts except my own, I can only speak for myself. I consider myself to be against any form of violence but it still has a hold on me. I have my personal group that I dislike. In my mind, I have justifiable reasons to dislike them. I believe that they are the cause of all the violence in this world. I like talking about how bad they are. I will never admit it but I would find it hard to be compassionate if something violent happens to this group to disrupt their activities. I might imagine this kind of violence justified because it serves to nullify a greater evil. Unfortunately, every violent act is founded on this idea. Everyone who commits violence thinks that they are doing something necessary to avoid a greater evil, even criminals think this way. I have heard and believed in theologians and philosophers who made convincing arguments about so-called just use of violence. I read them and used to believe in them. Now, I find the gospel to be saying something else. It is in the light of gospel where I have to judge the validity of their arguments. Jesus did not make any exceptions in His teachings against violence. Since He comes before all theologians, only His words have to be taken into serious consideration. He addresses violence systemically beginning with verbal violence and summing up with the admonition to love those who we are usually taught to despise. His message goes against our human nature. This is why we ignore it so easily. After reading these tough words of Jesus, I have become more aware of my own violent tendencies.
Jesus tells us not to resist our enemies. He wants us to turn the other cheek. No matter how much we try, we cannot interpret this text to make violence excusable in some situations. Jesus lived what He preached. He did not resist His enemies. He prayed that God does not take into account their cruelty towards Him. I am not usually a violent person but I am definitely prideful. This is not a confession but just a fact. Like many men and women, I suppose, I don’t want anyone to think that I am weak, especially my enemies. For this reason, when I read this verse, I feel uncomfortable. I want to resist a little bit just enough to show that I am not weak. Unfortunately, Jesus is not allowing any room for my pride. He doesn’t think that it is necessary for us to convince anyone of our strength with violence. He proved it with His own life. The standards are clear and the choice is a tough one. It is either we live in this world and speak the language of Jesus or we just become part of the world. The latter operates on a vocabulary of violence.
After the protest passed us, the children and teens began talking about the altercation with the homeless adult. Everyone’s adrenaline was pumping. The conversation was about violence. They were talking about retaliation. They thought a grave injustice has been committed. No homeless adult should physically hit a young teen. In their minds, the wrong can only be corrected through violence. Finally, I told them to stop the discussion. I said that we have seen and heard enough violence for one day. We don’t need to prolong it. They acquiesced. It was almost as if they wanted to have the permission to stop the violent talk. Then I saw the stranger and his family walking past us. They had given out all the blankets. He smiled at me but his wife and two daughters looked a little nervous and frightened. Understandably they were shaken up. I hope that this would not stop them from being compassionate. On the other hand, it is to this violent world that Jesus calls us to serve.
Jesus faced all the harsh realities of His time and yet never used the language of this world. Violence was not part of his vocabulary. The world could not understand Him. His words did not resonate with the way the world operated. They tried to mold Him into their way of thinking. He did not resist them because the only way to resist them is through violence. He preferred to suffer death than speak their language. He preferred humiliation rather than revenge or justice. He spoke to them in another language. It was a heavenly one. It would be a great mistake to think that his message is about non-violence. Non-violence could be used as a tool to resist your enemies. Jesus was and is taking everything to higher level. His message is about Love where hatred and violence have been eliminated from its vocabulary. It is not a message that the world wants to hear and this is why we will never be at home in this world.