Sunday, October 12, 2014

On Murder, Revenge, Enemies

Even though we have laid out Jesus' all-encompassing greater command, it is worth considering several of the instances of his adjudications of Jewish norms that various onlookers brought to his attention.


The prohibition in Exodus, "Thou shalt not kill," is expanded in Matt. 5:21-22 to cover any injury of one person to another in any form, even calling someone else a "raca" (fool). When I first heard this explained, the phrased used was "killing the spirit," or how insults have a way of diminishing and snuffing the life of another in an unseen way.

Today we hear often about the lifelong ramifications of a loss of self-esteem. Consider how many adult lives are sadder and more miserable for taunting received in the schoolyard. In the movie "Back to the Future" the protagonist's father grows up to be a milquetoast accountant living in a decrepit little box of a house, never quite living up to his dreams. In the background lurks Biff, the bully who taunted him into submission. The protagonist goes to the past and provides his father a way to defeat the bully, win the girl and, back in the future, to be a successful man for whom Biff works as a flunkie.

Let's up the ante.

Remember comedian Lenny Bruce? He has one routine in which he repeated the infamous "n-word," the racial taunt. He says it again and again for about thirty times. Then he stops. Finally, he says that if President Kennedy (who was alive and in the White House at the time) would just get on television and do what he just did, no child would go home crying because he was called that on his way from school.

Who's to say that Jesus's now-archaic "raca" wasn't equivalent to a racial taunt or the many parts of anatomy used to humiliate.

Revenge or Self-Defense

Here comes "the other cheek."

An eye for an eye was a Near Eastern custom. However, when Hammurabi proposed it about two millenia before Jesus tackled it, the idea was progressive compared to "honor" codes that exacted disproportional retribution in response injury or wrong doing. Hammurabi's point was that if your neighbor took an eye, you could take the neighbor's eye but no more; this was better than taking both legs as well.

Yet Jesus rejects it, along with the principle of self-defense.

In an expansion reminiscent of his response on murder, he offers that if someone takes an eye, give the other: he does exactly the same math with cheeks, miles, clothing and money. The intent is inescapable. Not only are his listeners supposed to avoid retribution, but no resistance must be raised against what is seen as evil.

Ghandi applied this principle, albeit in Hindu clothing, in his successful campaign to free his country from British rule in the 1940s. He called it "satyagraha," a term that combines three notions: "satya," or openness, honesty and fairness; "ahimsa," the refusal to inflict injury upon others; and "tapasya," a willingness to self-sacrifice.

"Love does not burn others, it burns itself," Ghandi wrote. "A satyagrahi will joyfully suffer even unto death. It follows, therefore, that a civil resister, whilst he will strain every nerve to compass the end of the existing rule, will do no intentional injury in thought, word or deed to the person of a single Englishman."

Imagine if on Sept. 12, 2001, U.S. Air Force planes had flown to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and dropped, instead of bombs, parachuted crates with medical supplies, toys for children, books, clothes and food!

Carrying it further, Jesus commands: "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you" (5:44).

Love Osama and ISIS. Don't just shower them with gifts. Love them.

Love the nagging wife or abusive husband. Love the parent who berates you. Love the president who lies to you. Love the other political party no matter how wrong.

This is the stuff that makes liars of almost all followers of Jesus. Few, if any, believe, much less practice this. Admittedly, it's not easy.


Anne Malcolm said...

Funny. I was distractedly imagining at Mass today of scenarios that offered bread/meals/hospitality as a disarming device.

What we could do with North Korea.

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...