Lesson 3: Nonviolence in Jesus’ Gospel

Many of us are offended when modern-day apostles picture Jesus holding a gun or wearing a military uniform. Admittedly, Jesus comes across as extremely forceful when he cleanses the temple and speaks harshly defending himself or warning about an impending judgment. However, his lifestyle and teaching are overwhelmingly nonviolent. He never advocates physically attacking others.

Matthew 5: 43-44 could be regarded as a summary of his teachings. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

In some gospels, he begins limiting his ministry to the Hebrews, but he eventually opens it up to all nations when foreigners who need help come to him for healing. It becomes evident if God is our father, all people are our brothers and sisters.

This understanding demands repentance or a different way of thinking. Remember Jesus speaks in the context of his people being occupied by Roman troops. Rather than advocating violent revolution, he counsels transforming the enemy by refusing to be provoked into violence by the action of alien soldiers. “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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” (Matthew 5: 38-41)

The last part refers to refusing to be humiliated when a soldier orders you to carry his burden. Instead, Jesus counsels doing even more than he asks as a sign that he doesn’t control you.

The teaching about nonviolence also comes out in sayings such as “Those who live by the sword die by sword” and claims that God would provide an army to oppose Pilate if that was what he wanted. Instead, Jesus describes himself as a messiah who uses words to speak truth to power.

Of course, he lives out this teaching. The epitome of nonviolence is Jesus’ absorbing human violence on the cross. Christians see this as God’s ultimate act of love that transforms humanity.

Jesus repeatedly claims his teachings turn the world upside down so that the first are last and the last first. What appears to the world as weakness is really strength in the eyes of God.

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