A few weeks ago we were thinking about non-violent resistance in our church services. Jesus said, ‘Do not resist an evil person’ (Matthew 5.39), but a more accurate translation would be ‘Do not use violence to resist an evil person.’
Jesus gives a few examples. If somebody slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to them as well. If somebody takes your shirt, give your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile with them, go two miles.
These are all examples of non-violent resistance. They are designed to challenge, embarrass or even get your opponent into trouble. Roman soldiers, for example, could force someone carry their bag for a mile, but the rules said that it must only be one mile. Just imagine someone clinging on, insisting on going another mile, and then the commanding officer comes along!
In my sermon I told a story from apartheid South Africa. The authorities had wanted to destroy a particular shanty town for a long time. One day, after most of the men and women had left for work, the army arrived. The soldiers announced that the few women who were left had five minutes to get their belongings together and then the bulldozers would be coming in. The women stood in front of the bulldozers and stripped naked – and the army fled. The prudish white soldiers couldn’t cope with it!
If I’d been speaking about this a couple of weeks later,though, I’d have had some really up-to-date stories. Just last week I heard of a similar situation in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem.
The Israeli authorities are planning to demolish the homes of an indigenous community living on Pope Mountain. But the families are taking a huge risk by ‘sitting-in’ their homes. This is inspiring people all around the world to sign a petition – so far over 800,000 have signed – and the plan is to project all their names onto the homes. This destruction can only take place under total media darkness, but when the bulldozers come they won’t just see a small, fearful village, but the whole world shining a light on what is happening.
A little later in the week I turned on the news to hear about the ‘hotel with the worst view in the world’. The street artist Banksy, who keeps his real identity well hidden, has been active in the Palestinian territories for some years. But now he has decorated the interior of the ‘Walled Off Hotel’, a new guest house in Bethlehem with windows overlooking the wall separating the Palestinian West Bank from Israel, with provocative images.
The artist has also created something of a museum that includes surveillance cameras mounted like taxidermic trophies, a Grecian bust surrounded by a cloud meant to depict tear gas, and a wax statue depicting the signing of the Balfour Declaration – the 1917 letter of British intent to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine (a hundred years ago this year!). It’s a great example of resistance art.
I don’t believe that Christians are meant simply not to resist evil. We are not to be doormats! We are to love our enemies, of course, as Jesus says a few verses later (Matthew 5.44). But we can do that by challenging them and confronting evil. That’s exactly what Jesus did when he died on the cross. It was an act of pure love which challenged and defeated all the evil of the world. It was the perfect example of non-violent resistance.
Perhaps we can show the same attitude in our daily lives. It may well start with our own families or the proverbial ‘neighbour from hell’....!
With every blessing