It is called the “Teaching” Gospel because Matthew arranged the words of Jesus in an orderly manner. For all who love the Word of God, this Gospel is for you! But beware, it also has some very difficult advice on ISIS.
In chapters 5 through 7 the most challenging of our Lord’s teaching shines through: the Beatitudes; the teaching on marriage; and the teaching against revenge. It is here that we are close to the very words of Jesus himself, unfiltered and powerful. Saving his other teachings on the sanctity of marriage, and the imperative of the Beatitudes to go beyond the letter of the law, let us take up our Lord’s teaching on retaliation, which is a clear window into his very personal response to the hatred and evil of his day, which he himself endured. This teaching against retaliation is sincere, because he lived it himself, and he asked all who desire to follow him, to live it as well.
The words and stories that Jesus uses to describe his teaching are very much his own. “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but what I say is offer no resistance.” He did not mean to be passive in front of evil; in fact, he himself was not passive. Instead he meant very clearly that we not fight evil with evil. Jesus asks us to follow him, to be like him, to love like him, even our enemies, and to do well even to those who do evil. He invites us to resist like he did; not in the usual way, but rather in a creative way; and for this he gave us three very unique examples.
We know his examples as: “turn the other check,” “go the extra mile,” and “give the shirt on your back.” These expressions are based on popular parlance, because this is how we have watered down his teaching. But what Jesus actually said is very different!
He did not say “turn the other cheek;” he said, “if someone strikes you on the right cheek offer him the left.” A strike on the right cheek could only be done as a back-handed slap, sending a clear signal that the one slapping is superior, and the one receiving the slap is inferior. For Jesus this was not acceptable, he asked us to be defiant in the face of such cruelty, and not accept an inferior status, but rather demand that the oppressor strike us again, but this time as an equal! Let us not forget how Jesus stood before Pontius Pilot, as an equal, even though the Roman leader claimed to have “power” over him.
Likewise, Jesus did not say “go the extra mile,” as if to mean we must “give more of ourselves.” Rather, our Lord knew all too well the unjust law that allowed Roman soldiers to force him and his Jewish countrymen to carry their equipment, but not for more than one mile. Jesus thus asked his countrymen to go the “extra mile”, so as to buy back their internal freedom from their oppressor, to embarrass the oppressor, albeit politely, and to go one more mile, but this time freely, so as to honor one’s innate dignity.
Lastly, Jesus did not say “give the shirt off your back,” as if this is some generous action for someone in need. Rather he said, “if someone sues for your cloak, offer him your shirt as well.” Thus, instead of being a victim of another’s unjust suit, turn and give him your shirt as well. In this way, you show him a fearless love, with the hope that it will perhaps shame him, and awaken him to justice.
By means of these three examples our Lord is clear: no retaliation of evil for evil, but at the same time, be defiant in the face of oppression, have a non-violent attitude, refuse to accept unjust treatment, and be creative in how to respond to injustice!
How appropriate is our Lord’s imperatives today in face of hate groups such as ISIS and others!
I propose three strong Christian responses to ISIS and other such criminal groups:
- Prosecute for genocide. This means that we work to influence the United States Government, the United Nations, and individual persons to bring the crimes of ISIS for genocide to the International Court as well as individual courts of law wherever possible. ISIS and other such groups give ample information on their websites as to who is in charge. Let’s begin prosecuting them for their crimes.
- Work to resist the advance of ISIS, create a safety zone for innocent victims of their genocide, help them return to their homes, and defend them as they defend themselves.
- Continue our case against ISIS in the courts of public opinion with media and legislative action to expose their crimes against humanity.
For more info please see In Defense of Christian website www.idcconvention.org and the Wilberforce Initiative website www.21wilberforce.org
By peering into the window of Jesus’ teaching on retaliation we can see the splendor of truth and creative resistance as ways to follow him. We hear our Lord’s command to never return evil for evil, but this does not mean that we have to sit idly by and accept the evil we encounter. Rather we actively protect ourselves and innocent victims with a loving defiance so as to face every injustice squarely.
This very personal glimpse into the heart and mind of our Lord Jesus Christ inspires us to follow him ever more closely, even to the Cross!
May we who are nicknamed by ISIS as the “people of the Cross,” be truly who we are, and live by that Cross in a defiant love that is as much as possible like that of our Savior and our Lord!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Gregory John Mansour
Feast of the Holy Cross 2015