Should we be pacifists? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
As we continue the Sermon on the Mount, the next section I will divide into two parts saving verse 42 for another blog post. This one raises the question of if we should be pacifists. Let’s take a look at chapter 5 of Matthew.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
This was said to a people under Roman rule. Consider the last one. A Roman soldier could force a random Jew to carry his stuff for him for one mile. Jesus says at the end of that mile to go another one. Why is that?
Jesus is wanting to put to the end a vicious cycle. Rather than harbor hatred for your enemy, go out of your way to be kind to him. They want your shirt? Be super nice and give them your coat as well. However, if there is any part here that is really controversial, it’s the idea of turning the other cheek.
Some parents are scandalized, for instance, when they hear a child told that if anyone hits you on the playground, you hit him back hard. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? How could anyone encourage their child on the path of violence?
War is a reality in the Bible. It’s not just in the Old Testament. What do you think is going on in the book of Revelation? Jesus isn’t coming back to have a jolly good time with everyone on the Earth. He comes as the text says in righteousness to judge and to make war.
What is going on in the passage is a slap on the right cheek is not meant to be an aggravated assault. It’s not meant to start a fight. It’s meant to be an insult and it’s done privately. Jesus is saying in a private exchange, do not seek the path of retaliation. Be the bigger person.
This isn’t the case either in a public forum. This is why I don’t have a problem with people getting tough with opponents in a place like Facebook. Jesus did the same thing when He was publicly challenged. We often think Nicodemus a shameful figure because he went to Jesus at night. No. His going private showed him to be a better one. Asking questions in public was a way of challenging to shame the teacher. Going at night in private is a way of showing you want to learn.
Of course, if one uses self-defense, or defends another, one should not use disproportionate means. If you come to me and slap me on the face, I am not justified in pulling out a machine gun and blowing your head off. In a forceful exchange, one should use enough force to disable the opponent as much as needed. In some cases, that might mean that one has to take a life if absolutely necessary, but that should always be a last result.
To get back to the public exchanges, this was also known as challenge-riposte. In Jesus’s day, if someone challenged you in public, you had to defend your honor with a riposte. If you didn’t, you were shamed and the opponents were honored. Jesus was a master at winning. (The only one who ever bested Him was the Syro-Phoenician woman) He was so good His opponents went to crucifixion of Him, the ultimate public shaming. Bad news for them. His resurrection outdid that one as well. Thus, in a public forum, do not be afraid to challenge someone right back who challenges the gospel. It is for the honor of Christ that you contend.
In King Jesus’s world, the citizens don’t seek to retaliate for the sake of personal glory. However, that doesn’t mean they are doormats also. Servants of the king don’t let people walk on them.