Jesus’ most radical statement

Jesus was a radical. We often think of gentle Jesus meek and mild, but he said some things that messed with his contemporaries, and would mess with us … if we let them. His manifesto is known as “The Sermon on the Mount” and can be found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Right at the heart of that teaching are the radical statements, “Do not resist an evil person,” and “I tell you, love your enemies.”

Right here with Jesus is the first-ever recorded example of loving your enemies, not as a trick, and not as a way to get a reward from God, but because it’s the most human way to live. If we really want to change the world, loving our enemies is the only way to do it. Anything less radical will not be enough. Which begs the question, how do we love our enemies? How do we resist evil (which Christians are certainly called to do) without resisting an evil person? The answer is through creative nonviolent resistance.

At the beginning of this Black History Month, I encourage everyone, especially Christians, to consider again Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s six principles for nonviolence. These principles teach us how to resist evil without hurting people, how to love our enemies:

1. “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.” In a culture too long saturated with toxic masculinity, the assumption is that not fighting back makes you weak. Not true. Refusing to hurt someone who has already hurt you takes far more courage, integrity, steadfastness, and faith.

2. “Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.” At Zion United Church of Christ, we say that we would rather win friends than win fights over dogma and politics. The ultimate goal of nonviolence is to bring good out of bad and repair relationships that were broken.

3. “Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims.” In order to stay safe, which we are all naturally inclined to do, oppressors must play by the rules of the system. When injustice is defeated, those who are perpetuating it are freed from a system that was doing violence to them them by requiring them to do violence to others.

4. “Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences to its acts.” The hard truth about loving our enemies is that it’s going to cost you. And when it does, the very power of God alive in you will empower you to experience suffering without flinging it back at the person causing it. You will resist evil, without violently resisting the person. But you will still suffer.

5. “Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence to the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is active, not passive. Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater. Love restores community and resists injustice. Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.”

6. “Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.” As we engage in acts of creative nonviolent resistance in our private and public lives, we may feel like we are making a spectacle of ourselves. But really, we will be following the example of our elder brother Jesus, making a spectacle of the system that is designed for human destruction. Although it may cost us our very lives, we will not fear, because this weak system of greed and fear and shame will ultimately give way to the Kingdom of God, full of justice, peace, and love. Nothing can stop the movement of God in our world.