I would like to admit up front that I have always had something of a problem with the traditional pacifist interpretation of Jesus’ command in Matthew 5, “Do not resist an evil-doer.” It has always seemed to me rather like the Prime Directive of Star Trek’s Federation; a convenient excuse to do nothing and just stay out of the way. Too often in the history of the church it has done just that, standing idly by while the downtrodden are oppressed all in the name of ‘turn the other cheek.”
I have just finished reading Walter Wink’s book “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” and I have to say few books have ever thrilled and challenged me so much. It’s only 103 pages (small pages at that) but each page caused me to rethink years of teaching that I have received on passive-resistance. Consider the following:
“When a church that has not lived out a costly identification with the oppressed offers to mediate between hostile parties, it merely adds to the total impression that it wants to stay above the conflict and not take sides. The church says to the lion and the lamb, “Here, let me negotiate a truce,” to which the lion replies, “Fine, after I finish my lunch.”
“This message [Matthew 5:38-41], far from being a counsel of perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed. It provides a hint of how to take on the entire system in a way that unmasks its essential cruelty and to burlesque its pretensions to justice, law, and order.” [Square brackets mine for clarity]
“When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God.”
This is my first exposure to Walter Wink and that may be more of a statement to my reclusivity than his obscurity, but I will certainly be searching out his other titles in the future.
I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a Biblical stance on social justice. Actually, even if you’re not looking you should read this anyway and start.