February 19, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
There’s a word that’s been popping up in my media feed a lot lately. It’s also word that also appears in today’s Gospel.
Anyone know what it is?
I’ve seen various admonitions to “resist” in the past several months…I have to admit my favorite has been the homage to Carrie Fisher. Just after she passed away I started seeing pictures of her on posters and t-shirts as Princess Leia with the phrase “A woman’s place is in the resistance.”
This word, “resist” shows up on Jesus’ lips today. “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.”
I have to admit this is one of those phrases in the gospels that caught me up short…this whole passage, in fact, is difficult and troubling…It follows from the Beatitudes…and contains all that we heard last week and again this week. This whole list of “you have heard it said…one thing…but I say…something else.” And often that “something else” is hard to hear. And it might make us wonder…Does he really mean all this? Or is he just being hyperbolic?
“You have heard it said don’t murder…but I say if you’re angry you’re liable to judgement”…
“You have heard it said, don’t commit adultery..but I say if you even look at another with lust you’ve committed adultery in your heart.
“You’ve heard it said don’t swear falsely…but I say… don’t make vows at all to anyone but God.
And then there’s today…”you have heard it said an eye for an eye…but I say don’t resist an evil doer.” Does he really mean all this? Well, I think we have to proceed on the assumption that, yes, he really does mean exactly what he says. That we are to live, not in ways that are easy or necessarily comfortable but in ways that are honest, and just, and true to the values of the Beatitudes.
But then he goes on to describe all these actions that look and sound to me very much like they came straight out of the “non-violent resistance” playbook of Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
Every example he lays out can be read as a form of non-violent resistance. Being struck on the right cheek, scholars point out, presumes a back-handed slap. Offering the “other cheek” is not returning the violence in kind—not retaliating, but neither is it just abjectly taking it. [Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 12].
Being sued for one cloak and giving up your only other cloak as well…in effect stripping yourself naked is also not retaliatory, but still reveals the unjustness—and the shame—of the situation.
Going the extra mile is not simply overdoing it…Soldiers were only allowed to conscript people to carry gear for one mile…going the second is a form of non-violent resistance…like the second slap, or the second cloak, this second mile is a way of highlighting some injustice, and responding with strength but without a similar kind of violence. Much like sitting in a “white’s only” section of a bus, or a lunch counter, or marching to the sea to collect salt, or across a bridge to register to vote. All these…as far as I can see…are acts of resistance.
And yet, he says… “do not resist an evil doer.” So…I have to wonder what does this mean?
The Greek word used is anthístēmi which means to take a complete stand against…a 180 degree contrary position. It was used in military terminology to indicate taking a firm stance against.
Could this be what Jesus is warning us against? Entrenching ourselves in our opposition? Becoming the exact opposite of whatever it is that you oppose…that you’re resisting…only results in becoming what we oppose.
As usual, Jesus is showing us a different way…a way through rather than a way against. And he does so by referring back to the core of the law…the essential and non-negotiable value that he is the living embodiment of…love.
We prayed this morning, “O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love.” Love not just for self. Love not just for tribe. Love not just for community, or country…but love for God and the world…love for self and for neighbor…love for friends and for enemies. Love for the sake of love.
Last week, the New York Times ran an article asking a variety of people what they meant when they used the word “resist,” today. My favorite response came from a 30 year old Rabbi in North Carolina named Dusty Klass. She responded by saying:
“For me, to resist means resisting the temptation to assume, to decide who a person is before spending time with him or her. Resist writing other people’s stories for them. Resist the urge to hide, to click over to something else when that difficult truth pops up on your screen. Resist the opportunity to just keep walking, to avoid eye contact. And more than anything, resist the ease of just being angry — dig down past that anger, toward the pain.”
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Love your neighbors AND love your enemies, and pray for all…especially those who persecute you. Jesus never says that love is the easy way, or the comfortable way. Love isn’t the easy way…. it’s the only way.
Don’t resist an evil by becoming evil. Don’t resist what is hurtful by returning the hurt—by becoming what is hateful…don’t become so firmly entrenched in your own story that you start dictating what other people should or shouldn’t think, or do, or support…
Instead, stand firmly on the foundation that we have been given. The foundation of God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ. And draw from that the strength that only God—that only love—can give. The strength to stand firm and with vulnerability…the strength to offer yourself humbly in the the service of others…the strength to not merely remember, but to actively proclaim with all of our lives that love is the way…the only way…”the true bond of peace and of all virtue,” and without it whatever we do is worth nothing.