The Gospel of Peace

Matthew 5:38–42 (CSB) – 38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments:

“Jesus’ followers renounce their own rights for his sake. He blesses them as the meek. If, after they had given up everything else for the sake of his community, they desired to hold fast to this one possession, they would have abandoned discipleship. Therefore, this is nothing more than an expansion of the Beatitude.

Jesus takes up this will of God and affirms the power of retribution to convict and overcome evil, and to ensure the community of disciples as the true Israel. Just retribution should do away with injustice and give proof to the disciples’ following Jesus.

According to Jesus’ words, such just retribution takes place only in not resisting it.

With this statement, Jesus releases his community from the political and legal order, from the national form of the people of Israel, and makes it into what it truly is, namely, the community of the faithful that is not bound by political or national ties. God’s chosen people of Israel did exist in a political form in which, according to the divine will, retribution consisted of returning a blow for a blow. For the community of disciples, which makes no national or legal claims for itself, retribution means patiently bearing the blow, so that evil is not added to evil. That is the only way community can be established and preserved.”

Bonhoeffer, D. (2015). On the “Extraordinary” of Christian Life. In V. J. Barnett (Ed.), & B. Green & R. Krauss (Trans.), Discipleship (Reader’s Edition, pp. 102–103). Fortress Press.

I think Christians in the free world need to ask an important question: “are my freedoms worth killing for?” Americans are raised under the maxim “give me liberty or give me death”. But we must recognize this secular maxim for what it is: radically opposite to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, we have elevated our rights far above their true value. Our “liberty” is not more important than another’s life. Certainly not more important than the life of those who are lost. Nor does the preservation of my rights justify any act of evil. To sacrifice our enemy’s life to preserve our own freedoms is to refute Jesus’ sacrifice to save his enemies! For his rights were violated and he was unjustly killed. By this act, Jesus showed us that the way to overcome evil is through the powerful love of self-sacrifice. To lay down one’s life for evil people is how the Kingdom of God overcomes the tyranny of darkness. And to this we as Christians are called!

Perhaps here, more than at any other place, the Christian is called to share in the self-sacrifice of Christ by renouncing all to save the lost. We renounce our “rights” in order to win those who would themselves violate those rights. For Christ also renounced his divine rights for the sake of his enemies:

Philippians 2:5-8 (CSB) – 5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.

Christians adopt the same attitude as that of Christ, who did not come with a sword to crush the unjust, but became a man of sorrows to overcome sin’s tyranny. He entrusted God to vindicate him in justice, and surrendered his life to evil people so that in him they could see the light of God’s love and be saved by the truth he brought them.

For the Christian, dependence on political power and military use of force to establish justice is replaced by dependence on God:

Romans 12:19–21 (CSB) – 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, VENGEANCE BELONGS TO ME; I will repay,, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

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