Subversive Action

Session 9.08 Starter

Introduction

Jesus’ instructions to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and love our enemies are among the most difficult for us to follow. Why does Jesus ask this of us and how does it fit with our calling to love justice?

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

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Additional Background Information

Nikki’s Notes

Subversive Action

As I mentioned in the Bible Background video, some of Jesus teachings are hard and these are some of the most difficult. I find the final words of today’s passage to be part of what makes all of these teachings so difficult. The point of all of this is for us to be like God in heaven.

There is no easy way to talk ourselves out of this message. There is no easy way to suggest that Jesus didn’t exactly mean what he said. It is clear, straightforward, and explicit. And Jesus wants us to live this way so that we can be more like God and so we can more like the people God has called us to be.

The word “perfect” in this passage comes from the Greek word that means “end, goal, or purpose.” There really is a sense that what Jesus is saying that these are the ways you live into the purpose God has for you. So what if you love the people that love you back or greet only your brother and sister? These are the things everyone does and it gets you no closer to your God given purpose that anyone else. However, if you do these difficult things, if you love even those who hurt you and persecute you, you will discover and become more like the purpose God has for you.

Learn more about the period of the divided kingdom.

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Nikki’s Video Script

Subversive Action

Today, we are looking at another section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-48. This section of scripture begins by referencing the law of retaliation — eye for eye and tooth for tooth. the purpose of the law was to enact fair justice among people of Israel. The point of the law may seem like it is to ensure justice is served to wrong doers, but in fact the opposite was intended. The idea is to ensure that penalty given to a wrong doer is fair to the crime and not arbitrary.

In today’s text Jesus teaches that his followers should not retaliate with any kind of physical violence, but rather they should not resist those who do evil. This is where we get the instructions to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and give the cloak as well as a the coat if someone asks. This is always where the rubber meets the road for me. These commandments from Jesus are hard. I don’t care who you are — they are just hard.

Knowing some context can help us understand what Jesus is teaching, though it won’t help make putting it into practice any easier. Jesus was speaking to First Century Jews who lived under an oppressive Roman government. There were lots of ways Roman officials could take advantage of Jews in this time.

Of course, violence was a part of the scene in which they lived. Additionally, Roman soldiers were allowed to demand someone carry their pack for them for up to one mile. In the verse related to suing and giving ones cloak as well as a ones coat, it seems there may have been shame brought on those seeing a person naked rather than on the person who was actually de-robed.

You have heard the phrase “kill them with kindness” and it is not far from Jesus’ objective in this passage. The point seems to be that Jesus is advocating we overcome evilness and oppression with goodness. When we respond in these ways, those who are humiliating and causing harm are exposed for how the exploit their power over those who are more vulnerable than them and the intent is to shame them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was influenced by this passage and by Mahatma Gandhi to develop his ideas about non-violence as a means of effective protest. And when we understand what Jesus is advocating in this passage, we understand that he was not encouraging people to be doormats. Rather, he was advocating for a subversive action — responding to evil with love — to expose evil and oppression for what it is.

In many ways, this is what happened when Jesus died on the cross. He was an innocent man. And yet, the powers at be, motivated by their own fear, crucified him anyway because his teaching threatened their way of life and their privilege over others.

As we move on in the passage we hear Jesus teaching about loving our enemies and those who persecute us. Whew — more hard teachings from Jesus. However, I think this teaching complements what came right before it. Jesus knew that what he was calling for was hard, and he also knew that the only way to take it on was to be motivated by love for even those who oppress you.

Whatever Jesus’ motivations were for this teaching, I do think his primary motivation is to admonish us to be more like God in heaven. The final verse for this passage says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I don’t think Jesus actually thinks we can achiever perfection, but he does believer that if we learn to act in these ways, we will be headed in the right direction.

All over the world, and in our very country, people suffer from oppression and at the hands of evil doers. May we all seek to expose those who are doing evil in our world and to the most vulnerable among us and be willing to take risks to stand with them and for them.

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