Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turn the Other Cheek 2

... continued from Monday.
So the ethic Jesus taught in relation to secular authorities was an "interim ethic," not in the sense of an ethic only for while he was on earth but only for the time before Jesus returned. There would be a time for confrontation of the worldly powers. But God would take the lead and now was not the time.

Neither Jesus nor any of the New Testament authors were addressing a situation where it was at all likely that believers would be able to transform the structures of society. The presumption of both what Jesus and the New Testament says is that you will be in the position of the weak and disempowered. Jesus' ethic is thus an ethic for the oppressed and powerless in society.

Even then, we should not assume that the specifics of the approach Jesus took at a specific time and place in history is meant to be the approach for all times and all places. Jesus largely advocated non-violent conformity to the will of the Romans. "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles" (Matt. 5:41). "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well" (5:40).

Walter Wink famously suggested that these were actually actions of non-violent resistance. [1] By responding in these sorts of ways, you shame the person.  "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (5:39).  You thus force the person to strike you back-handed, an allegedly shameful way to hit someone.

Perhaps Wink captured a valid dimension of Jesus' rhetoric. But Matthew 5 puts these comments in the category of not getting revenge.  The Old Testament Law says, "Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut. 19:21).  But Jesus says, by contrast, "do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:39), and the next paragraph is about loving one's enemies. The attitude Jesus advocates here is not one of defiance--not even non-violent defiance--but conformity with loving hope toward one's oppressor.

By the way, it is revealing once again that Jesus has the authority to modify Old Testament Law.  The sequence in Matthew 5--"you have heard but I say"--is not simply a deepening of the law, as we saw in the previous chapter.  Jesus modifies the Law in a substantial way. The Law says "Show no pity." Jesus says in effect that his "fulfilling of the Law" (Matt. 5:17), using the love commandment as the guide, shuffles and changes some of the Law. Here is another example where, at least on an individual level, the normal practice of Deuteronomy is negated. [2]

Jesus addressed a specific context in Galilee, although the Gospel of Matthew presumably wanted its audience to see this teaching as applying to them as well. However, we at least have to ask the extent to which Jesus' teaching on non-violent conformity was local or timeless and universal...

[1] E.g., Engaging the Powers.

[2] However, a key distinction is that Deuteronomy primarily targets a "civil" context.  This is the context of societal justice.  Jesus is addressing an individual context.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

How do you make a distinction between an individual context and a societal one? Individuals make up society. Therefore, if others (the majority) seek to intimidate the minority (the individual), then, isn't there supposed to be recourse in our society? Otherwise we further a "mob mentality" in society. And since the mob's views and emotions are usually intensified by "group identification", isn't such behavior considered abuse?

If so, are you suggesting that "Jesus" wants us to submit to abuse? Is this what Tertullian wanted in Christian martyrdom, as there was nothing more important than the Church (and its growth?)! What about Constantine, then, as to the Church's power?

Collective behavior of any kind can be dangerous, because of how humans gain confirmation to their bias (and it is even questioned how much we can be objective in light of the subjectivity, anyway.)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Social norms are known to be maintained by such social osterization. It was called a "taboo".

Today's climate leaves little "taboo", in our society, except what is taught, internalized or chosen as a value in specific families and individuals.

Our society is called liberal, because we are flexible enough to change with scientific and social conditions that lead us to question previous social norms...

FrGregACCA said...

Some of this is simply what one should do when dealing with a non-enemy, such as "go the extra mile" or, that most practical of advice: "settle out of court".

With regard to "turn the other cheek," I have come to understand that it is simply means, "Do whatever you can to avoid a fight." However, I don't recall the source of that understanding.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Would the Roman "Pax Romana" be of any interest to those that are wanting to promote a historical view/context for Christians? (bring "tradition and text" into reality/politicizing religious opinion?).. The separation of Church and State was for a reason, as it protected personal choice, value and goals, as to one's life. It was the value of liberty, not an overpowering "Empire" (government) whether religious or secular! The individual was "free" from contraint and co-ercive forms of moral framing from institutions, whether government;"moral duty" or the religious; "moral ought".

That is not to say that an individual would not choose "moral duty" or the "moral ought", but that it would be a voluntary choice in our society!

FrGregACCA said...

Angie: You are right that "separation of Church and State" came about for a reason: several reasons, actually, and all of them very good. This is a given in Western culture, including the United States, all right wing hysteria to the contrary aside.

At the same time, from your ongoing comments here, it seems that you fail to realize a couple of things.

First, a Church, or any religious community, is a VOLUNTARY organization, and therefore has the right to set standards of belief and behavior for its members. This is part of the "freedom of religion" that the Constitution guarantees under the First Amendment.

The second thing is, from any number of perspectives, not just a certain Christian POV, the state has the right and the duty to regulate the economy so as to create and maintain the common good.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Greg ACCA the state maintains no economy, nor for the common good.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Society is a vast majority that share a common characteristic. One is either a delinquent, or an individual-personality -- if they are not 'society'. As a reactionary i find society to be imposing change that is detrimental to tradition and reason. I say this society of delinquents forces only itself.