The problem with a combination of a limited debate and a culture that is already bent toward violence is that we tend to lack creativity in solving problems of violence. But what if there is a third way? What if there is a long-term solution?
As a pastor, you can probably imagine that I’d like each person that reads this to find and follow Jesus. Some are already following Jesus and some still have deep questions. But I want to quote Jesus to bring up a third way and, don’t immediately write it off. Here’s why; I was just listening to a philosopher and theologian named Dallas Willard and he makes a great point that we have taken the teachings of Jesus and moved it out of the realm of knowledge and into the realm of faith, therefore nullifying Jesus’ teachings as intellectual thought. In the last two thousand years this is a very recent development. In our culture, it would be a very normal thing to say we cannot have academic discussion about the Bible because it is faith not knowledge. We can and should take the teachings of Jesus seriously and intellectually. They are the basis of thousands of years of culture, shouldn’t they at least be examined the same way we study Egyptian pharaohs or Greek philosophers?
So lets take this very small amount from the Sermon on the Mount.
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Here Jesus deals with three common cultural issues that could invoke a violent response. First, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. In the first century world, this would have been a back-handed slap using the right hand, meaning the person being hit was inferior. The left hand was not used for things like this, in fact commentators reveal that the left hand was, “reserved for dirty things.” Turning the other cheek would have forced the person to hit you with a close fist, effectually saying, “Hit me like a I’m your equal.” Jesus was not advocating that we be doormats when violence comes our way, but in this response, the cheek turner forces the violent offender to admit that they are equals or walk away. In order to make peace in a violent world we need to step up to violent offenders. Think of a domestic violence situation, not only is there physical and emotional pain, but the abused often loses their dignity. What if instead of looking for the bad guys for neighborhood watch, we checked in on our neighbors and stepped in the way of abuse? What if we demanded that people all over were treated with dignity?
The second issue Jesus deals with is a lawsuit. He said if someone sues you for your tunic let them take your cloak also. In order to get this you have to understand something about the first century. At that time, you only wore cloaks and tunics. If you took both of these items, you’d be naked. So Jesus told people to get naked…well not really. If you were being sued for your tunic, you probably were very poor, and giving the rest of your clothes as well would have exposed the injustice greed in the person bringing the suit. I think if you are working for peace the way Jesus teaches, then you expose greed and injustice wherever it is.
Thirdly, if someone forces you to go a mile, go two. In these days a Roman soldier could lawfully take a Jew, give him his pack and make him walk a mile. The response was probably after a specified point, the Jew would drop the pack, say something mean and run. But what if the soldier was surprised by the grace that you showed? What if they were taken aback by your generosity? What if on that second mile they found out you are the proud dad of two little girls? Do you think that soldier would think twice when it came time to start killing your people? What if we took a two-mile walk with our enemies simply to get to know them? How long do you think they would stay enemies?
I don’t know how to solve our nations gun violence problems, but I do know we need third options. We need to be willing to give and to suffer for this work. I love the words of Martin Luther King JR when he said: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering, do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. I love this quote, because it captures what Jesus did for us. What if we endured suffering, made peace and continued to love the world the way Jesus loved the people who he asked his father to forgive when he was suffering on the cross?