For some Sundays in a consecutive arrangement we have been fed with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in which at each sermon, Jesus again confirms, corrects, and updates or expands the Ten Commandments. Today he brings up to us another phase of his sermon which is the Gospel of non violence characterized by “endurance” or “meekness” or “fortitude,” Theoretically this Gospel sounds so appealing and welcoming but in praxis its humanly absurd and logically bizarre. One may begin to wonder if Christ has actually lost the awareness of his environment and the necessarily unavoidable consequence of such attitude in life. This attitude sounds suicidal! Does it mean he didn’t actually mean what he preached regarding non violence? Has he forgotten that not only because the Old Testament recommends eye for an eye but that there is something within us that believes that real justice is in the law of Talons: ‘an eye for an eye’. Did he mean that when we have been assaulted, or when someone humiliates us or mocks us, or when someone pushes our buttons in such a way that we are thrown into emotional turmoil; we should still hold to non violence? Wow! This sounds ridiculous especially when I remember that even in the villages, the first self assertion training given to a child is not to come home complaining of marginalization from his peers rather make such complaints when he most have fought for his right even if he was sure he would be defeated in the battle.
Traditionally in our day, a mention of the virtue of non violence has a synonym and association with the grandfathers like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jnr. Legally an offended party is entitled to redress but these fathers of non violence had a different option of non violence. Though people reserve the right to have it hot with those trying to exploit or take undue advantage of them but Jesus is inviting his followers to give up this natural right. Why? Mahatma Gandhi explains it so well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” An ever-widening spiral of hate and violence threatens to engulf our world today. There is only one way to break this vicious circle, and that is by some people deciding to absorb the violence without passing it on to others. For Martin Luther King, mankind must put an end to war and violence or war will put an end to mankind. Thus He states, ‘its no longer a choice between violence and non violence rather its either non violence or non existence.’ This is what Jesus did on the cross when he forgave his executioners: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The nascent church extolled the virtue of non violence, endurance, meekness or fortitude even amidst longsuffering because it was the virtue that gave them the inner strength to go through the tortures of persecution without either denying their Christian faith or trying to pay back their unjust aggressors in their own coin. Nevertheless, those of them who hadn’t this virtue of endurance and longsuffering either denied their faith under hash torture or looked for a way to fight back. Today Jesus emphasis and also recommends longsuffering as a way of life for his followers. Thus he said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” but I say to you, never resist the evil man rather 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’’ (Matthew 5:38-41)
By this form of endurance Jesus did not imply a sign of weakness but of strength. It is not a sign of cowardice but of courage. Jesus enjoins nonviolence on his followers not because they are helpless or because there is nothing they can do about the situation but because God himself is a longsuffering God and we are called to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Thus the Lord commands us to be holy just as He is Holy! The word holiness has the same derivative and root as wholeness or perfection. He desires us to be whole, spotless, unsoiled and unbroken in longsuffering, endurance, meekness e.t.c. Just as He would always do, He enjoins us to “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”. In this way “we will be sons and daughters of our Father in heaven”. The reason is obvious. He is kind to both people: “The sun rises on bad as well as good,” “His rain falls on all alike. Always remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr ‘Love is the only thing that can turn an enemy into a friend’.
In the days of Moses, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not actually a form presenting God as a vindictive and vengeful God. However, it was actually a means to limit the damage enacted in vengeance. In Moses’ time, if someone did wrong against a neighbour, they might go out and slaughter the whole family in revenge. ‘The eye for an eye’ concept actually limits the response to injury and therefore placing boundary to the degree of harm caused while taking revenge. So God really is seen here again as “just” God. Thus Christ has come to perfect and shed his light of salvation to such inhuman laws whereupon he advocates for non violence as the new way!
As we continually pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Trespass here means to cross the line, Christ disposes us to be more ready to tolerate others in their weaknesses. Little wonder therefore the Church’s position opposing capital punishment today. The popes have spoken out numerous times against capital punishment. The legitimate purposes of punishment are deterrence, reform and retribution which are being violated in its fullness by capital punishment.
Peace is not some state that just happens: it has to be established. Christians are called to wage peace with as much energy as others wage war. Christ calls us to maximally invest our time, energy, emotions, money, skills e,t,c, to sue for peace!. If you want peace, justice, development, reconciliation; then these campaigns have to be waged and actively prosecuted. The price for peace is your endurance in the family, workplace and wherever you are! Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours Amen.
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