Unbounded Love As Resistance: Standing against Sin and Evil, Part 2

Part 1: Love command as interpretive framework for the Sermon on the Mount

Part 2  Love command as Standing against Sin and Evil

A careful reading of Matthew’s version of Jesus saying reveals a humanizing act both for the one being struck and for the one striking the other. one that counters the received interpretation from the powerful and the privileged to the marginalized and oppressed, that Jesus means we must merely accept abuse.

If a right-handed person strikes one on the right cheek, that person has back handed the other.  The back handed strike isn’t what takes place between equals or between people simply engaged in a struggle or fist fight. This is an insult, an assertion of superiority over an inferior.  Thus, Jesus’ instruction to turn the left cheek is to demand to be struck as an equal, or at least to prevent the insult from being repeated.  It is symbolically in one’s body saying to the other I’m your equal, I do not accept your terms. I will not strike back but if you wish to strike me again you must punch me like you would your equal.  This is love of enemy, seeing the enemy as human, like you, and insisting that your enemy also recognize your humanity. Thus when the Elder King confronts the police officer for calling him boy one, the Elder King was turning the other cheek. Any refusal of the dehumanizing by the elder king (or any African-American) was acting on Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and was a fulfillment of the command to love one’s enemies.

We may then take a moment to reflect on what nonresistance to evil then really means. Clearly it isn’t acquiescing or acceptance of dehumanization and oppression.  It might mean in the least not taking actions against enemies or oppressors that mimic the dehumanizing and othering tactics of the oppressor.  Non-resistance of evil is choosing to in the face of evil act from the stand point of radical love.  Love of enemies is resistance that refuses to dehumanize even the human that acts towards others in the most dehumanizing fashion. Non-resistance of evil says I will not only treat you the oppressor as human and with love but in that love I demand that you treat me and all people as equally human deserving of the very same dignity and good things that you the enemy and oppressor demand for yourself and those like you.

Taking this point of view of Jesus Christ and of Jesus’ teaching, should lead us to ask the question about any action in the face of oppression: does it invite the oppressor to both see the oppressed as equal human beings and does it humanize the oppressor and the oppressed?

In a paradoxical moment of great extremity Dietrich Bonhoeffer admitted that there are instances, such as his moment in opposition to Hitler, when the demand that the enemy see the other as human means a willingness to in a singular instance violate Jesus love command, eg. assassinate Hitler so that the love command might be kept. In other words under the extreme situation of Nazi Germany and the genocide of the Jews meant that insisting on the humanity of all and refusing the extermination of ones neighbors fellow human beings came in conflict with the command of love of enemy. Bonhoeffer recognized that in such extremities it might be impossible to maintain the unity of Jesus’ teaching of demanding humanity for all including the evil person. one may be required by Jesus love ethic to fail in loving one’s enemy. Bonhoeffer could not escape the connecting Jesus makes in the sermon on the mount between hate and murder, thus assassination of Hitler (even the attempt of it) lead him for the sake of Christ and the demand of love to violate Jesus love command in the name of love. Bonhoeffer admitted that his participation in the assassination plot was a failure of the demands of love and  Gospel for the sake of love and the Gospel. Bonhoeffer accepted this guilt and through himself upon the grace of God.

Love of enemy, turning the other cheek and non-resistance of evil are to serve radical love and radical humanization of all people including, to jar the oppressor out of their inhumanity. This radical love can lead us in extremity to a contradiction that catches us in the human inability to uphold Jesus radical love ethic, at which moment we embrace our flawed humanity and throw ourselves upon the love and grace of God.  Such is the resistance of the disciple of Jesus Christ, member of the church the body of Christ. Many interpretation of the sermon on the mount which to preserve the church the members of Christ’s body from the possible contradictions that taking this teaching seriously may lead one into.  Many interpretations treat Jesus’ teaching as a means to avoid Sin.  Yet what the Christian monastics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks Martin Luther King Jr and Sr, and many others show us is that the life of the Church isn’t the avoidance of Sin but the direct conformation of sin which will expose our human limits and our complicity with Sin.  This radical confrontation is undertaken in the name of Christ and by the power of the cross so that Sin , injustice a d oppression may be driven out of our minds, hearts and of all creation. These are acts of exorcism, a life of exorcism dependent upon the work of God in Jesus Christ: Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension.