In the name of God,
The light that overwhelms the darkness.
When we read this Sunday’s Gospel during Lectio Divina in our staff meeting,
I literally could not listen past “Do not resist an evildoer.”
When I heard Jesus say “do not resist,”
My own conflict-avoidant nature and
The fear that rules my reactions
Were telling me that what Jesus meant was
Pretend you don’t care.
Go and hide somewhere else.
Use whatever privilege you have
To avoid trouble.
Pretend that evil doesn’t exist.”
And in that reaction I see only myself,
And not the fierce love of God made flesh
Or the wisdom of a light shining in the darkness.
When I heard Jesus say “do not resist,”
All of a sudden I started questioning myself:
Only a few days before
I had overcome the vast sloth of my conflict avoidant nature
And called a senator’s office for the first time in my life
Concerning a Cabinet nomination.
And having said that I am by nature conflict-avoidant,
I made the call confident that it was a nomination opposed both by my “progressive” friends from North Carolina and my “conservative” family from Kansas.
So I wasn’t really being too risky in making the call –
I certainly wasn’t going to lose any friends over it.
And a few weeks before that, I was one protester in three million,
Marching with women from all over the world
To the capitol.
If not resisting evil, exactly,
Then certainly doing my part to make it known
That should evil win the day,
Should any voice be silenced,
There are so many of us who will stand up and resist.
To shine some light in a time of darkness.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, “Do not resist an evildoer. || But 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.
Susan was gracious enough, that morning,
To remind me of the famous scholar Walter Wink’s writings on this passage,
Explaining how truly unique Jesus’ teachings were:
If you were struck on the right cheek,
To turn the other cheek back into the face of the one who struck you
Forces them to meet your eyes,
And should they want to strike again
To do it with the opposite hand,
And acknowledge you as their equal.
Should your cloak be demanded of you,
The complete stripping of your body to a shocking and alarming nakedness
Would cast shame on the one who saw it.
Should a Roman soldier force you to carry his pack for a mile –
Which Roman military law allowed him to do –
To walk a single step past the end of that mile
Would render the soldier in violation of the law,
And subject to censure and rebuke.
Jesus, it turns out, was just being a good Episcopalian.
Had he simply said “do not resist,”
My conflict avoidant nature could take over,
Could run and hide.
But in these examples,
Jesus is trying to teach his followers,
To teach US,
The middle way,
The via media, || A third alternative.
Jesus is saying to his followers
When confronted with an evildoer,
Neither fight nor flight should be your response,
Nether submission nor assault,
Neither passivity nor violence.
When we are physically struck,
Most of us will either seek to strike back
Or to fall to the ground and hope it doesn’t happen again.
When we are forced to give something up,
We either hold on tightly with everything we have,
Or pretend we never cared about it anyway.
When we are being coerced to do something we don’t want to do,
We either ignore our responsibilities altogether
– it’s called “ghosting” someone, hoping that if we pretend they don’t exist we won’t have to face it –
Or resist with angry bluster, defensive bravado, or violent refusal.
Instead, Jesus teaches us the way of God-made-flesh,
And in so teaching us
Creates in us
The grace to live into
Light that does not resist the darkness,
But overwhelms it.
In his book The Irresistible Revolution
Shane Claiborne tells story after story
To show how The Simple Way community,
A new monastic community
Has learned to live out
Jesus’ third way,
The city of Philadelphia
Passed a law outlawing
The distribution of food in public spaces,
Particularly in Love Park,
One of Philadelphia’s more well known city green spaces.
And so they gathered the community –
Including inviting news reporters –
Along with hundreds of others,
And they held a worship service,
Where they served the bread and juice and wine of the Eucharist,
And while they distributed the elements
Suddenly pizza appeared everywhere,
Out from backpacks and under coats and parked cars,
All as police and media and city officials looked on,
Stunned and embarrassed into inaction. ||
The light, shining in the darkness.
He tells the story of one young man
Who was walking home from school,
And was confronted by a group of young men in a gang
And viciously beaten up.
His response was to create flyers and posters which read:
I was beaten up by some guys on this corner.
If anyone knows who did this,
Please let them know
That I do not hold this against them, but care about them,
And if I have done anything against anyone,
I ask for forgiveness.
I want whoever did this to know that
I am not angry with you.
I care about you and I invite you to get to know me.
Maybe we could play kickball or something.”
And then it listed his contact information. ||
The darkness could not over come the light.
I heard Shane speak once,
And he told a story about walking home one cold, winter night
After a church meeting with a young man,
And they were held up and mugged at gunpoint.
The aggressors demanded that they give them their coats, their wallets, their phones, their shoes,
And any other valuables they had.
The young man with him started to run,
But Shane held his arm
And started to live out Jesus words to the letter:
He calmly took off his coat,
His shirt, his pants.
He folded them neatly,
And peacefully walked the rest of the way home completely naked. ||
Jesus invites us to become a humanity infused with God’s very nature,
To be light in the darkness,
To upstage the drama of violent conflict
And overwhelm the darkness
By shining something brighter and more beautiful into the world.
By insisting to the powers that be
Not only that we are ALL fundamentally human,
But that within each of us we have the divine as well.
Howard Thurman, in his book Jesus and the Disinherited,
Reminds us of the wisdom that those who have prepared for difficult situations
– a mugging, a beating, or even an unjust law-
And have imagined and visualized their responses
Are more likely to respond with holy resistance,
More able to overcome their initial fight-or-flight reactions.
And so in a moment of quiet,
I invite you
To imagine the evil you feel you must resist,
And to ask Jesus’ wisdom in showing you the third way,
The via media between violence and passivity,
And to visualize your response to that evil.
In closing, I offer this quote from Walter Wink:
“Know that evil can be opposed without being mirrored,
That oppressors can be resisted without being emulated,
And that enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed.”
May God give us the courage to imagine how to make it so,
On earth as it is in heaven.