Hearty Heresy

Trusting God: The Way of the Heretic
March 17, 2007, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

According the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms, the phrase “go the extra mile” means “to make more effort than is expected of you.” Which is the way I think most folks (Brand Xians and heretics alike) interpret the last of three sayings Jesus clustered together in his Sermon on the Mount. But according to Walter Wink, Jesus had something much more radical in mind (just as he did when he told the oppressed to “turn the other cheek” and “give your shirt as well”):

Jesus’ third example refers to the angeria, the law that permitted a Roman soldier to force a civilian to carry his 65 to 85 pound pack. But the law stipulated one mile only. At the second marker the soldier was required to retrieve his pack. By carrying the pack more than a mile, the peasant makes the soldier culpable for violation of military law. Again, Jesus is not just “extending himself” by going the second mile, as the popular platitude puts it. He is putting the soldier in jeopardy of punishment.

Rather than setting an impossible standard of bending over backwards to accomodate evil, Jesus was actually encouraging the oppressed to engage in nonviolent resistance. As I’ve said before, this interpretation of Jesus’ teachings was never part of Sunday school when I was growing up. Instead, I and perhaps the majority of children being raised to accept Brand Xianity were taught that Jesus set the bar so freakin’ high that only He could do these things. “You have to be perfect like your father is perfect. Can’t do it? You’re in luck because I died for you sins!”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a complete disservice to a great spiritual teacher, one who could show both the oppressor and the oppressed, the righteous and the unrighteous how to enter into the Realm of Heaven. For some it might mean selling everything they have, for others it might mean nonviolent resistance against their oppressors. For all, it meant trusting in a loving God who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.


10 Comments so far
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I admire Wink a great deal. But I perfer Yoder’s conception of nonviolence because it is loving in spirit as well as action. Wink has only the Christian’s actions being nonviolent. Things like offering the other cheek in order to put the oppressor at a disadvantage and carrying the pack in the hope that the soldier will be beaten by his superiors adhere to an ethic of love only superficially. It seems like passive agression rather than the sacrifical love that Jesus demonstrated.

But Wink’s remark on how the passage specifies the right cheek is pretty strong circumstancial evidence in his favor. The account of Jesus’ loving attitude toward his killers (which I think most heretics don’t have a problem believing) is strong circumstancial evidence against.

Greg Boyd in this book Repenting of Religion does not explicitly deal with an ethic of nonviolence but he does speak to motivations, one of Wink’s weak points. But, seriously, Wink is awesome. More people should read him.

Comment by ganes

I tend to see this in a Jewish context. Jesus’ concern was with oppressed Jews, so he may not have been too concerned with the results of nonviolent action on the oppressors. But I could be wrong, of course! I’ll check out Greg Boyd–sounds interesting.

Comment by heartyheretic

That’s the thing though. Jesus seems overly (and scandalously) concerned with love for enemies. That seems to be the principal behind the sermon on the Mount. Forgiveness and love even for the evil. Turning the other cheek and the other examples seem to be particular applications of this of confidence in God that results in love and forgiveness for those who oppress.

Comment by ganes

That’s one way to look at it. The transforming power of love is definitely the principle behind all of Jesus’ teachings–love of neighbor, love of enemy. But if one worries too much about all of the possible consequences of love (being shunned by family, being arrested for treason, being crucified, etc.), one might not do anything.

Comment by heartyheretic

That’s where the supernatural comes in. Heretic or not, it’s hard to deny that Jesus expected revolutionary divine intervention in the near future. You can’t really believe (or at least very few educated people do) in a Jesus who was only a teacher and not also an apocalyptic prophet. Such a Jesus almost certainly did not exist. So assuming Jesus expected divine vindication, it makes sense that he could extend his love even when it brought shunning, arresting, and execution (as it did for Jesus). If you want to follow the teaching of Jesus, you must either view Jesus’ belief in supernatural vindication as a manifested reality or as a superstitious waste of time. There was no ‘modern’ Jesus. There is little debate either among orthodox or heretics. The historical Jesus expected the miraculous and built his teachings on that foundation. He was either right or wrong. You can’t take away the foundation without making his teachings inconsistent.

Comment by ganes

Let’s see: I deny that Jesus expected revolutionary divine intervention in the near future. See, it wasn’t that hard. I used to have trouble with the Cross…you know, why would a human Jesus insist on dying that way. But then I read Borg (I think), who mentioned that John’s beheading gave Jesus a pretty good idea of what the end result of preaching a true counter to status quo would be. But he started his ministry anyway. And it lead to the Cross. Which he faced with out fear. Very inspirational if the act of a human being. The only teachings that appear to be inconsistent are the teachings of the living Jesus versus the later “teachings” attributed to “Jesus” by the not-so-early church.

Comment by heartyheretic

Well I’d be interested to read those who make a case for the separation of Jesus’ moral teachings from the apocalyptic. It’s been a year or so since I’ve read Borg, but I believe he still attributes the apocalyptic to the historical Jesus.

Comment by ganes

In Meeting Jesus Again, Borg says, “the Kingdom is not somewhere else; rather it is among you, inside you, and outside you. Neither is it some time in the future, for it is here, spread out on the earth; people just do not see it.” To which he adds this footnote: “In writing the last two sentences, I side with those scholars who see the Kingdom primarily as a present reality in the message of Jesus and not as a soon-to-come future reality.”

Comment by heartyheretic

You’re right. Borg says that all the apocalyptic sayings are later inventions. I just don’t see why it is more plausible to say he didn’t expect divine intervention than to say he did. The Jesus Seminar tradition trends to posit a conveniently modern Jesus. They discovered the historical Jesus and by coincidence he turned out to be exactly as they would have made him. I think it is more plausible that Jesus had a pre-modern world view.

Comment by ganes

Well, I can’t speak for other people, but in my case, I’m looking for a way to approach God in this world, so the more plausible teachings are the ones that refer to God’s presence in the here and now. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in seemingly miraculous things. My aunt, for example, was actually in hospice care for a brain tumor. But somehow, she’s recovered. She’s definitely someone who believes in divine intervention, and in this particular case, I’d be a fool to try to tell her otherwise.

Comment by heartyheretic

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