PART 8 OF 12
BY HERB MONTGOMERY
“But now I tell you, Love your enemies.” —Jesus, Matthew 5.44Part 8
This week, I want to address the single greatest objection to the peace teachings of Jesus that I get. This question is raised almost every time Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence are beginning to be taken seriously. The question is:
What would you do if someone broke into your home?
Rather than beginning with the emotions of this worst-case scenario, I want to begin with the actual teachings of Jesus and work our way back out to its application this week. I believe that the answer is in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. I want to recommend that you go back and reread Part 3 as a foundation for what we are going to share this week.
I also want to recommend a very small volume that, in my opinion, is one of the best little books written on this subject: John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? It’s a quick read but one of the most excellent writings on the subject I’ve come across.
In answer to the above question, I want to make it clear that I don’t know what I would do until I’m faced with a situation, but I do know what I should do, and this is where we begin this week.
Whenever I have discussed this question, I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of binary thinking on this matter. I mean by this that, usually, someone perceives only two options: shoot the invader or do nothing. But there are a multitude of other creative, nonviolent options when one stops to consider what could happen. Besides this, studies also show that adding either a gun or an additional gun to such a situation statistically raises the odds that the outcome is going to be the exact opposite of what we would think. Things do not always go the way we plan; we assume that, if we pick up a gun, the outcome will be they lose and we win. But statistics show the exact opposite. However, nowhere did Jesus ever teach in Matthew 5 to “do nothing,” a passive response. Love demands that we do something to protect our loved ones, but it also dictates the form that something takes given that Jesus died for the invader as well, which makes him also a sacred creature in need of being rescued just as much as those the intruder is threatening. The intruder is simply a conduit. Let me explain.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12). This means that not only do those being threatened need to be rescued from this attacker but that the attacker himself is not the enemy either but a victim himself of the REAL enemy. He is in need of being rescued just as much as those he intends to harm.
To illustrate, Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke of all the ways that racism affects racists themselves. He saw them, too, as fully and tragically human—God’s children—victimized by the evil system they perpetuate. He taught that every kind of evil cripples the persecutor as well as the victim. Both are dragged down by the same process. As long as that process continues, they are tied together. Whatever happens to one happens to both. And then he warned, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
I’m with Dr. King on this one. I believe that Jesus really meant it when He taught, “Love your enemies.” Too many times, we look at intruders as someone we don’t know, valueless, meaningless. But I want you to imagine an intruder standing in your home, pulling back the ski mask, and you realize that it is actually one of your own children. Would your feelings then be different? Would your response take a different form? Yes, you would still seek to stop him from hurting your other loved ones, but you would do it in a way that also preserved the life and, therefore, the hope of redemption for your child as well. You see, no matter whom the intruder is, this is still a child of God, someone Jesus died for, that you have been called to reach out to and try to save, too. What you would feel toward the intruder if he were your child is what God feels toward him since he is His child. God seeks to save both the victims and the victimizers in this war-torn world of ours. Let me share with you a few stories.
A Mennonite follower of Jesus, was once asked whether, if an intruder broke into his home and, for a split moment, laid his gun down, would he pick it up and use it? What would he do? The dear Mennonite said something that challenges me, too. He said that he would drop to his knees and pray because, through prayer, he would connect himself with Someone much more powerful than the intruder’s gun. It’s something to at least think about.
A pastor friend of mine also tells a story that I believe helps illustrate this as well. One day, on the streets of Toronto, while in conversation with another individual, he noticed an African American woman tear past him running as if afraid for her life. Moments later, a gang of “skinheads” went racing past in pursuit. My pastor friend immediately dropped the conversation and began chasing after them. The whole time, he was thinking, “I’m a pacifist; what on earth can I do once I catch up to them?” He rounded a corner and, right in front of him, was the woman, huddled on the ground, surrounded by the men, who were kicking her with blows aimed to kill. He did the only thing he knew to do. He hurled himself through the crowd and threw himself on top of this dear lady to place himself between her and her attackers. Then he shouted out something that today he says was probably the stupidest thing he could have said. He shouted, “I’m a follower of Jesus, so that means I can’t do two things!” They all stopped. Silence came over the group. My pastor friend then said, “I’m a follower of Jesus and that means I cannot let you kill her, but as a follower of Jesus, I cannot fight you back.”
The group became confused. They then turned their venom on him, saying things such as, “Man, what are you doing? You’re a whitey!” Then they began to argue among themselves: “Do we kill him too?” The group began to argue until someone spoke up and said that this was taking too long, and, becoming concerned with their own vulnerability, they began to disperse.
Again, love demands that we do something, but it also dictates the form that something should take.
An Australian friend of mine, wrestling with this same issue, came to this conclusion: “God could have taken the Adversary out in the very beginning, saving millions from him. But God took a different tack. This, undeniably, is one of the greatest problems people have with God. Why did He not kill Lucifer? Why did He permit Lucifer to live? And though I don’t have all the answers, the fact the God didn’t just pick up the gun and blow Lucifer away, at the very minimum, speaks volumes to me.”
As we close this week, I want us to consider the story of Peter and his defense of Jesus, whom he thought was defenseless. His heart, being in the right place, sought to protect the One he loved, which wasn’t wrong by any means, yet the form that that protection took warranted one of the strongest rebukes given by Jesus to anyone in the gospels:
Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; No more of this!! For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18)
Someone may object, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was supposed to die! With us, it’s different!” But I would humbly remind us of the words of Jesus Himself. The cross was not something that Jesus was to die on instead of us. Jesus was not to be unique as the cross-bearer. He was simply the first, being an example that His followers were to follow.
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23-24)
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12.23-26)
“And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.38)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16.24)
He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14.27)
As followers of Jesus, we are called, in all our doings, to lay down the sword and to pick up, in its place, the cross. We are living demonstrations of not the perpetrator-sacrificing love of God but the SELF-sacrificing love of God.
What would I do if someone broke into my home? I don’t know the answer to that and will not until it actually happens, but I know that, whatever I do, what I am called to do is to respond in a nonviolent way that seeks to save not just those who are in immediate danger but to save each person who is involved from being victimized by this event, those being threatened as well as the one who is the conduit of the threat. Some will say, “But we have no guarantee that will work!” Two things: picking up an additional gun doesn’t guarantee that, either. We think it gives us more of an advantage, but again, statistics show this to be utterly false, showing that what really happens is not an increase in the odds that things will turn out for the better but an increase in the odds that things will turn out much worse than they otherwise would have been. Finally, as followers of Jesus, we do not embrace non-violence because it always works but because non-violent, self-sacrificial love, even toward our enemies, is what we are called to and commanded by our Lord Jesus.
Again, there’s much to think about this week. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. We are called to protect our loved ones, but to, at the same time, recognize, the inestimable, immeasurable, infinite worth that every human being has in the heart of God, regardless of what they are doing at this present moment. They are someone Jesus died for. They are a sacred creature, whom we are called to save just as much as we save our loved ones. We are called to love both.
Next week, we’ll discuss two more objections together.
Keep living in love, thinking like Christ, living like Christ, serving like Christ, and loving like Christ.
I love you guys.
I’ll see you next week.