ORDINARY 7 (A)

Offer no resistance to one who is evil. Mt. 5: 39

One need only think of the Hitlers & Stalins of this world to conclude that this injunction is hopelessly idealistic. Yet our Lord was always the realist, & indeed, the Church has always maintained that there is such a thing as a just war. What is He trying to say here? I cannot believe that he is advocating becoming a doormat to violent people. Had he been a doormat, his enemies would not have found it necessary to crucify Him.

I think He is trying to discourage repaying evil with evil. The higher righteousness our Lord is advocating does not contribute to the spiral of violence. It is only when that spiral has gotten wildly out of control that counterforce can be justly applied. However, the threshold for that is very high. I think it would be fair to say that the Axis powers of World War II exceeded that threshold.

Nevertheless, for our Lord the threshold is quite high: He did not retaliate against Roman brutality or the rejection by His fellow Jews. However, bland refusal to participate in violence is not enough. Discipleship requires creative & courageous ways of acting. It must expose the hidden dynamics of violence & open up other possibilities. Hence the injunction to give more than is demanded of us & to go further than others might require of us: turn the other cheek, go two miles instead of one. Instead of protecting our own wealth at all costs, we point to mutual need as the foundation of communal living.

Again, to love enemies & pray for those who persecute us is to move from selective love to universal love. Instead of being predictable, we are to imitate our heavenly father, who sends rain on the unrighteous as well as the righteous. In short, we must go beyond mere passivity to making a positive statement.

Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic & a political prisoner for many years, once said that hopeful causes are not necessarily those that have a promise of early success. They are those that are good in themselves & therefore worth working for. In Christian language, they are rooted in the goodness of God, & the people who advocate for them share that goodness. The key is to hold the value of no retaliation & universal love first & look at what is happening in social situations second.

If we act from existing instincts, the dominant ways of retaliation & preference will appear & not even be noticed. If we are clever enough, we can find ways to integrate the values of no retaliation & universal love into situations so as to reveal the counter-productiveness & ineffectiveness of the old habits of retaliation & preference. That is the challenge we as disciples face. AMEN!