Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Off the Deep End?

In my last post on Tod Lindberg’s book The Political Teachings of Jesus I mentioned the curious fact that the three examples that Jesus uses in his “don’t resist evil” discourse are all largely matters of pride and humiliation: the slap on the left cheek, the lawsuit over an undergarment, and the command to “go the extra mile” (familiar to the audience as the ability of Roman soldiers to require local residents to carry their packs for a mile). Here’s where I go so far beyond what Mr. Lindberg wrote that I may go off the deep end as an amateur Bible scholar. My apologies, Mr. Lindberg. I also find it hard to believe that my ideas are original, and I’d appreciate hearing from anybody who has run across them before.

Consider the three acts of humiliation. Now, imagine these acts magnified into acts of true brutality. The slap on the cheek becomes a vicious beating. The lawsuit over an undergarment becomes the public humiliation of having your clothes stripped from you. And having a Roman soldier demand that you carry his pack becomes a Roman soldier demanding that you carry your own cross. You now have not three unrelated humiliations….you have the Passion of Jesus.

Jesus is asking that we “turn the other cheek” to the daily damages to our pride and ego that spoil so much of our lives and our relationships with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. He, moreover, did not resist the greater brutality version of this narrative because his death on the cross was his greatest gift of love for us.

Years ago when my wife and I taught middle school Sunday School, we did a unit in the midst of the “What Would Jesus Do?” phenomenon. Before it degenerated into bumper-sticker theology, some of the original writings were quite insightful. “What Would Jesus Do?” was meant as a discussion starter about Christian behavior, but it never meant that we should always do what Jesus did or would do. Jesus did what He did because he was the Son of Man. We are not Jesus. We are not the Messiah. We are not to violently overturn the tables in the temple square. We are to take up our cross, but not the literal cross of crucifixion. That was for Jesus only, at one time and in one place. But I think that the message here is the following; we can walk away from escalating the slaps and petty humiliations in our lives because we know that Jesus has done the same, at a much more difficult level, for us.

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