Monday, 20 May 2019


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Rev. Zachary Crow - The Third Way in Two Parts

November 18, 2018

                           The Third Way in Two Parts by Rev. Zachary Crow

Matthew 5:38–41 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.


Many hear these teachings of nonviolence and think of them as either impractical idealism or passivity. This type of thinking is incredibly problematic — to say the least — because it leads not only to cowardice, but encourages us to become complicit in the face of injustice. We’re going to talk this morning about what Walter Wink and countless others have called the Third Way and we’re going to do so — as Jesus does, in three parts. Part One: Turn the other cheek “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek… turn them also” If someone strikes you on the right cheek — very specific language. Why doesn’t he just say if someone strikes you on the cheek? It’s important to understand that First Century Jewish culture was deeply enmeshed with Greek and Roman culture. So, imagine with me for a moment — the Romans — a global military superpower — has occupied your land. Your land — Israel — had tremendous resource, because it sat between Europe, Asia, and Africa. So, any trading the Romans had to do — by the very nature of geography — had to move through Israel. In order to line their pockets, the Romans needed Israel.


A foreign military super power invades a Middle Eastern country in order to strip their resources. Sounds familiar, right? This foreign military super power had more weapons than anyone in the history of the world and referred to themselves as peacemakers. Sounds familiar, right? Everything Jesus says and does comes from this context — a foreign military superpower has occupied Palestine and started making life miserable. Recruit two volunteers from congregation “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek… turn them also” In the first century — there were two ways to hit a person and these lovely folks are going to help me demonstrate. This may be violent, but rest assured — it’s all for the glory of God. Before we start — The Romans have very strict rules for how to hit a person. There were actually rules for how to humiliate, and degrade someone properly.


So, before we get started with this — let’s go over the guidelines. In first century the right hand was for striking — the left hand was for — the maintenance of daily bodily function — they did not have Charmin in first century Palestine. RULE 1 — Strike with your right hand. Now, in first century Rome — there were two ways to hit a person — you could slap them. A backhand slap — was how you hit somebody that was beneath you. A slap was intended for a slave. Or, in first century Roman culture — a woman — a minority, an exile, a stranger. The right hand was seen as power, control, the exercise of dominion — the right hand of God, for instance. A fist was for someone who was your equal. So, when the text says — strike on the right cheek. Is that a fist or a slap? Demonstration with Volunteers If you are a Roman hitting a Jew — you’d never use the left hand — always the right hand. “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the left cheek.” Now, your only option is to what? Demonstration with Volunteers Punch them. Now imagine that there is a field of people being held in slavery. Now imagine the slave owner comes along — and slaps one of the slaves. Now if you are the slaveholder — and you slap a slave on the right cheek —and then — the slave turns to you the left cheek — what do you do? If you punch them — what have you just said about you and the slave? — That you are equals! If the owner hits you with a fist — they have just said we are equals. If they don’t hit you — you win. Turning the other cheek is not a passive act It’s an act of resistance — an act of rebellion, even. Brilliant, subversive, creative resistance. Jesus is saying — you are not to participate in your own dehumanization. You are made in the image of God. When you are treated as less than human — turn a cheek — rebel.


Dismiss Volunteers This is pretty revolutionary stuff, right? But, Jesus is not done. Cloak and Tunic Now, if you are going to conquer the world — you need an army What do you need to build an army? — money! So, when the Romans came in — they started buying everything! Ceasar believed he’d been sent from heaven to earth to bring about peace and prosperity, because Ceasar believed he was the son of God. The word Ceasar used for himself — Lord. The main military propaganda — Ceasar is Lord. Ceasar had a coin imprinted — which said — there is no other name by which people can be saved than the name of Ceasar. Ceasar would come into your area — demolish it — hold a sword to your neck and tell you to say “Ceasar is Lord” — so of course, you would. You would then become a Roman province — they would tax you and use the taxes to pay for more soldiers to go and conquer more areas. Whether or not Ceasar’s peace actually resembled peace — depended upon which side of the sword you found yourself on — it was peace for Romans — but only through coercive violence.


The first Christians took this military propaganda and changed it slightly — Jesus is Lord Really? — what’s your Jesus doing for the world? Well, come join us on a Sunday — we share a meal. But, before that we go around and we make sure everyone’s bills are paid — we make sure everybody has healthcare. Come see how we care for each other — and then you tell me — who is making a better world? Caesar or Jesus? The central question — Is Jesus Lord or is Ceasar? — coercive violence or sacrificial love? Recruit two volunteers from congregation (Both Men) So say you’ve lost your vineyard to the Romans— maybe it was in your family for 11 generations, but you can no longer afford to keep it because you are being so heavily taxed. The scholar Richard Horsley estimates that by this point the tax rates may have been as high as 80—90 percent. It’s why tax collectors are so hated. It’s why the question — who do you pay taxes to? — was so important. Are we really gonna fund further oppression? That’s what folks are trying to figure out — that’s what folks are trying to make sense of. So, you’re in this position — trying to do the best for your family, but you are so heavily taxed you can not afford the basic necessities of life — you have nothing left. These types of transitions that Jesus describe — took place at the city gate. To Volunteers: You are a wealthy Roman landowner buying up everything in your sight — a capitalist titan. You are a simple Jewish peasant — trying to keep your family land. The landowner has sued him because he’s too poor to pay his debts. “If anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” Now in these days men would typically wear two garments. An inner garment against the skin — your undergarments — and then an outer cloak. He is coming after your debts. He is utterly ruthless. He has you up against the ropes. “If anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” Now if he gives them the inner garment what is he wearing? Nothing! Birthday suit! Here’s what you need to understand — In Jewish culture — it was not the person who was naked who bore the shame. It was the person who viewed the naked person. So at the exact moment that he starts to remove his tunic, the landowner is going to say? “Don’t do it!” He at one point had all the power — but, now he is begging him. The oppressed now has all the power. Jesus is saying — you are not to participate in your own dehumanization. You are made in the image of God. When you are treated as less than human — give your tunic also — rebel. Even if it means getting naked.


Second Mile Jesus follows up with a third example — Now if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two. Roman soldiers carried packs with all of their belongings. So say this mean, nasty, evil soldier has been carrying their pack and is tired. According to Roman military law — you could ask a Jew — or anyone you’ve conquered — to carry your pack for one mile — but, that was it. That’s all the law allowed. Imagine with me its the Sabbath — a day you do no work — and you are headed to the Synagogue with your family — and you are walking through your village to go to Synagogue — a Roman soldier could say — you! carry my pack! In the first century, what carries packs? Mules! A Roman solider can come along and treat you like an animal and there’s nothing you can do. If you refused — they could crucify you. In Magdallah — they estimate that the Romans crucified 2000 people in one fail swoop. There were mass crucifixions for anyone who defied Rome. Now the law said they could force you to carry your pack one mile, but couldn’t force you to carry it two. Demonstration Let’s make this the one mile line — Walk the first mile. If you keep walking what’s the soldier gonna do? No! No! Because, at this point the soldier is in deep trouble Stop! Please! Now! Quickly! Is this a provocation? Is he insulting my strength? Being kind? Trying to get me disciplined? Are you planning to file a complaint? To create trouble? Who has the power now? Jesus is saying — you are not to participate in your own dehumanization. You are made in the image of God.


When you are treated as less than human — go a second mile — rebel. Thank you to our brilliant actors! An Oscar is coming your way. Dismiss Volunteers Conventional wisdom — cultural wisdom says when you are degraded, dehumanized, oppressed, you have two options. Option One — do nothing Option Two — get revenge Human evolution talks about this in terms of fight or flight. Option One — passivity — the problem — passivity leads to despair. Option Two — vengeance — come out swinging — the problem — retaliation always escalates. Here’s the mind-blowing thing that Jesus does. Jesus offers a third way. It’s not passive. It’s not vengeful — it’s non-violent. Now, non-violence isn’t weakness. Non-violence requires great strength and courage and creativity. The theologian Walter Wink says: “Some readers may object to the idea of discomfiting the soldier or embarrassing the creditor. But can people engaged in oppressive acts repent unless made uncomfortable with their actions? There is, admittedly, the danger of using nonviolence as a tactic of revenge and humiliation. There is also, at the opposite extreme, an equal danger of sentimentality and softness that confuses the uncompromising love of Jesus with being nice. Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.” The third way offers the opportunity for the aggressor to repent. The slave master may punch you — or — they may do nothing. The landowner may drop the lawsuit. The soldier may think twice before forcing another to carry his pack. The third way allows for that possibility. They may never repent. They may never treat you with dignity. But, the brilliance of the third way — is that it makes possible that possibility. It makes it possible for the enemy to repent.


This doesn’t look the same way today. Jesus gives first century examples to a first century audience. So, how about some more recent examples? In Alagamar, Brazil, a group of peasants organized a long-term struggle to preserve their lands against attempts at illegal expropriation. Some of the peasants were arrested and jailed in town. Their companions decided they were all equally responsible. Hundreds marched to town. They filled the house of the judge, demanding to be jailed with those who had been arrested. Here’s the kicker. The judge sent them all home — including those who had been arrested. This is what the third way looks like. During the Vietnam War, one woman claimed 79 dependents on her United States income tax, all Vietnamese orphans, so she owed no tax. They were not legal dependents, of course, so they were disallowed — but she insisted —“These children have been orphaned by indiscriminate United States bombing; we are responsible for their lives.” She forced the Internal Revenue Service to take her to court. Now, of course she “lost” the case, but she made her point. She had a massive platform to make her case. She used the system against itself to unmask the moral indefensibility of what the system was doing. This is the third way.

During World War II, when Nazi authorities in occupied Denmark promulgated an order that all Jews had to wear yellow armbands with the Star of David — the king made it a point to attend a celebration in the Copenhagen synagogue. He and most of the population of Copenhagen donned yellow armbands as well. The Nazis eventually had to rescind the order. This is the third way. The question facing us: What does the third way look like in Little Rock? What does non-violent rebellion look like in Little Rock? What does it look like — in Little Rock — to use the system against itself. May we be bold enough — courageous enough — creative enough — to find the answer together. Amen.