By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
November 6, 2010 (All Saints Sunday)
Read: Luke 6:20-31
Today’s scripture reading from Luke is referred to as the Sermon on the Plain – there is a similar version in Matthew but that takes place on the mountain- the sermon on the mount – and Matthew doesn’t include the woes. This reading, today, has a way of making us uncomfortable. While it offers comfort to the poor, the hungry and those who weep, the woes can be a bit disturbing. And then Jesus goes on to say that we should offer the other cheek, and if someone takes our coat, we should offer our shirt too. What is he talking about? Jesus has a habit of turning our understanding of the world upside-down. And he is doing that with our scripture today.
I learned something new, in working on this homily for today, that changes how I understand this reading and what it is saying to us. Walter Wink is a contemporary scholar and teacher and he speaks about The Third Way. The Third Way is what Jesus embodies and teaches. It is a way beyond both passivity and conventional violence. It is an alternative to both fight and flight. This Third Way that Jesus promotes enables people to resist violence so that love prevails.
To appreciate the specifics of Jesus’ teaching, we need to be aware of the social context in which he and the people around him find themselves.
First example: In that place and time, slaves are reprimanded by a slap with the back of the right hand to the right cheek of the slave. To strike an equal, however, you would use your fist and hit him, usually on the left cheek.
Now , if someone treats you as a slave and strikes you on the right cheek, and you turn to him your left cheek, that forces the hitter to treat you as an equal; it exposes the injustice of regarding you as something less. So it challenges the entire system of domination.
[While Luke’s version of “turn the other cheek” does not distinguish between left and right, the version in Matthew does make that distinction.]
A second example. If you’re in debt to someone, that creditor might seize your coat, even though doing so is contrary to the Hebrew scriptures, and this would leave you without a covering in which to sleep. When that happens, give your greedy creditor the shirt off your back too, even if it leaves you naked. People will, of course, be shocked to see you naked. And the creditor will be deeply shamed once you explain to the general public just what happened to your clothes.
What Jesus advocates is not attacking your opponent, nor acquiescing to injustice, but that you use the circumstances of the moment to expose the injustice and disrupt the oppressor’s power over you.
So how can the Third Way of Jesus be lived out in circumstances that people encounter today? Here are some examples from a colleague, Rev. Charles Hoffacker.
• A woman battered by her husband should neither attack him nor accept abuse. She should have the man arrested. This is the most loving choice available. It may also be the hardest. Domestic violence counselors report how difficult many women find it to act on this alternative, but arrest can prevent the cycle of violence from continuing.
• Or consider this story from Brazil, The lands belonging to peasant farmers were subject to illegal seizure by national and international corporations acting with the connivance of the military and local politicians. Some of the farmers were arrested and jailed in town. Their companions decided that they were no less responsible than those who had been jailed, and so hundreds of them marched to town and filled the judge’s house, demanding that they also be jailed. The judge finally sent all of them home, including the prisoners. The Third Way of Jesus often involves the use of wit that enhances the humanity of everyone involved. Some examples.
• Once a squatter community in South Africa found their shelter infested with lice. The authorities refused to fumigate the area. So the squatters’ leadership group hauled bags of lice-infested blankets to the administrator’s office and dumped them on her floor. The squatters’ shelter was immediately fumigated.
• Some years ago, Bishop Desmond Tutu was walking by a construction site on a temporary sidewalk that was the width of only one person. A white man appeared on the other end, recognized Tutu, and said, “I don’t give way to gorillas.” Tutu stepped aside, made a deep sweeping gesture, and responded, “Ah yes, but I do.”
The Church has sometimes almost forgotten this Third Way that Jesus teaches and lives out. But it has always remained alive in the hearts of great and ordinary saints whom the Spirit has inspired to love their enemies as well as their friends.
That Third Way, the active nonviolence of the Gospel, is erupting in more and more places today among people of Christian faith as well as others. Saints are people of contemplation and prayer. They are also agents of transformation. These two roles are not contrary, but belong together. Indeed, our prayer bears fruit to the degree that our hearts become undefended.
The kingdom of Christ is close at hand when, by the Spirit’s power, we work to liberate both ourselves and our opponents from the cages of conflict. Today we baptize two children, welcoming them into the Christian community. Sealing them as Christ’s own forever. May they be ordinary saints among us. Saints who understand and live The Third Way. Amen.
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