Here it is: in Matt 5:38-42 Jesus summons those who want to follow him to a radical way of life. They are to avoid, at all costs, seeking revenge. Jesus sets it up by quoting Exod 21:24 (or its other citations) — eye for an eye text, and flat-out challenges its applicability for his followers as that text was currently understood.
Instead of resisting, instead of striking back, instead of suing, instead of demanding rights, Jesus summons his followers to an alternative way of life. A way of life in which self-denial, love of others, and a contentedness with the control of life by God, how each of these is to shape how one responds to life.
It is easy to overdo this passage, just as it is easy to overdo what Jesus says about murder, anger, adultery, and oaths. Again, I’m with those who see Jesus making points the way the emerging movement has at times done: overstate it in order to let the emphasis become fully clear. There is nothing wrong with fighting for justice (I’m sure Jesus would agree), but the lifestyle of Jesus’ followers was not one of fighting but one of loving. That, so it seems to me, is what this text is about.
One thing this text emphasizes is the lack of aggressive pursuit of personal rights everywhere one goes. I doubt very much this is an all-out, never-fail-to-do-it-just-like-this principle, but once again an exaggeration to make a point. That point being that those who want to follow Jesus are not balled up in self-pursuits, are not pursuing their own rights and powers, and not vengeful people. Instead, they pursue reconciliation and they love others and therefore they do not seek revenge.
The world Jesus wants to create is a world of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and peace, not a world where justice and rights are the dominant words. That, Jesus is saying, is where I want the hearts of those who follow me.
Many are not persuaded by the pacifistic stance of the follower of Jesus — Augustine being one of the most significant. But, there can be little to said against the fact that God chose to end violence by absorbing violence and that God gave to the Church the image of the Cross as the lasting symbol of what it stood for and how it was to conduct its business. God help me, here I stand.
“The anger of a human,” the brother of Jesus was soon to say, “does not bring about God’s justice.”
Some of you know I’m in Philadelphia, my time on the blog is limited, and I can’t always respond to each question — esp perhaps to those most important. Dana, you’ve asked and said the right things; thanks. I’ll do what I can to get to these when I get back.