Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walter Wink's clear interpretation of Matthew 5:28-48 reflects Jesus' original intent

RESIST EVIL NONVIOLENTLY. Many people dismiss Jesus' teachings about "resist not an evil person" and "turn the other cheek" as impractical and misguiding in a world of domination and neighborhood and international bullies. Jesus' teaching has been misinterpreted as non-resistance instead of what it actually means. But Walter Wink points out that within the context of the Middle Eastern culture and social interactions of his day, Jesus' guidance is clear: resist evil, but do so without violence, in a manner that claims human dignity and points to possible redemption for both the would-be victimizer and would-be victim.

DISMISSED TEACHINGS RECLAIMED. Walter Wink's work on such tough Bible references is widely available in his books (such as Engaging the Powers) and on the Internet. He, perhaps more than any other New Testament scholar in this generation, has laid the interpretative groundwork for bringing Jesus' teachings about nonviolent Kingdom living into practicable range at personal as well as international levels. Do a Google search on "Walter Wink + non-violence" and see what all you access. Wink recovers many Biblical directives that have been dismissed by those choose, instead, to counter violence by violence.

PASSIVE CAPITULATION OR NON-VIOLENT STAND? For instance, Wink deals with the statement, "do not resist an evil person" (Matthew 5:39) first by pointing out that the Greek word (anti-stenai) interpreted in the King James Version as "do not resist" is under-interpreted. It's more correct meaning would be "do not retaliate against violence with violence." Wink writes:

"Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. His entire ministry is at odds with such a preposterous idea. He is, rather, warning against responding to evil in kind by letting the oppressor set the terms of our opposition... Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters like Barabbas. The only difference was over the means to be used."

BREAKING DOMINATION AND SERVITUDE. The teachings to "turn the other cheek," "give your undergarment to the one who takes your outer-garment," and "go the second mile" when compelled to carry a Roman soldier's burden--these are all acts of defiance, dignity, turning the tables, confusing the evil-doer, and undermining the very principles of domination and servitude that prevailed in the social order of the day. These actions in response to bullish behavior make clear that neither passivity/compliance nor violent reaction/vengeance were in Jesus' mind. A third way--the way of nonviolent action that reclaims human dignity and opens the way for liberation for all--is being introduced.

JESUS' THIRD WAY. Wink points out some of the principled actions of Jesus' "third way:"

* Seize the moral initiative.
* Find a creative alternative to violence.
* Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person.
* Meet force with ridicule or humor.
* Break the cycle of humiliation.
* Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.
* Expose the injustice of the system.
* Take control of the power dynamic.
* Shame the oppressor into repentance.
* Stand your ground.
* Force the Powers into decisions for which they are not prepared.
* Recognize your own power.
* Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate.
* Force the oppressor to see you in a new light.
* Deprive the oppressor of a situation where force is effective.
* Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws.

FORGIVING OUR ENEMIES. I was reminded of the power and promise of Wink's Biblical interpretation this week as I've been doing research for a Palm Sunday message on "facing" (giving faces to) and forgiving our enemies. This is one in a six-part series on forgiveness. I invite you look in on the series notes on the WEMO website (click on "The Compass") or join us over the remaining four Sundays of the series. Almost forgot: it's possible to listen to these sermons too, via our WEMO website (click on "Sermons Online"), even though its a bit embarrassing for me to point out.

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