... continued from Saturday
Of much more immediate importance to us as individuals is how we should apply Jesus' ethic to our daily lives. If I'm in the seventh grade and someone punches me, do I just let them get away with it? If someone takes my chocolate milk at lunch, do I offer them my dessert as well? If someone is going to beat up my friend, do I jump into the fight to help or do I just pray for them?
I'll confess that I'm not entirely sure what to say. Jesus seems to say not to fight back. On the other hand, he cast out demons--forces them out. Walter Wink's interpretation is so tempting, that turning the cheek, going the extra mile, were responses that would shame the bully. He gives a version of oppression that makes subservience a position of strength, because the oppressed take charge of their oppression. We are having a say in our bullying by participating in it by choice.
So there were some whites in the Civil Rights era who participated with African-Americans in their social location of discrimination. Non-violent resistance made a protest against injustice without doing harm to anyone. People sat in a place they were not supposed to sit and allowed themselves to be dragged off to jail, forced the oppressor to oppress according to his unjust rules. It is hard not to think these sorts of actions fit the spirit of Jesus because 1) they speak to how society should be if love of one's neighbor were truly the rule and 2) they do so in a non-violent, submissive way.
"There is a time for everything," Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, and verse 8 includes a time for war and a time for peace. When Jesus was on earth, he indicated it was not time to war against the Romans. It was a time to conform to their games, pay their taxes, and get on with the more important mission of the kingdom. Does that mean there is not a time to fight back or work aggressively for governmental change? Probably not.
Wisdom is knowing when it's time for what. Should we work for justice in the world? Should we speak out for the oppressed? Surely the spirit of Jesus says "yes." The prophets did. They spoke out for the oppressed and against the oppressors. Note that they did not speak out primarily against sin and violations of law--those were more the complaints of the Pharisees and Jesus' opponents. The prophets primarily prophesied for people, not against law-violation.
Standing up for others is always a clearer Christian value than standing up for ourselves. Jesus was standing up for others when he cast out demons. Jesus was standing up for the excluded of Israel when he overturned the tables of the money-changers. But isn't there a time to stand up for yourself as well?
A person can choose to take oppression and thus do it from a position of strength, of choice. There is surely a time to submit to suffering. When I am the powerful one and someone with less power is striking out at me, there will often be no need for me to retaliate. Jesus changes the rules when he makes the question one of loving my neighbor. The rule is not, "Make sure justice is done" but "How can I help you?"
But there is surely a time for justice, perhaps precisely because the oppressor is unlikely ever to change. Wisdom is again knowing when it's time for what. Force usually begets more force and escalation. Sometimes the only way to stop a cycle of violence is for a strong person to stand down, to let the last strike go unanswered...