Jesus’ Third Way (Chapter 5, Wink)

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38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

In the first four chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be,” we’ve established that there are unseen forces that govern the world, forces the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers,” that these forces have morphed together over time into a complex system of domination held together by the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and that Jesus fought against this system, rejected its methods, and proposed a radical new way that breaks the spiral of violence – a way that doesn’t demand blood. In chapter five, we are introduced to this “third” way.

Before explaining a “third” way, however, I guess we need to identify the other two: (1) the way of violence (the myth of redemptive violence), and (2) nonresistance (pacifism, as commonly understood). The latter, Wink argues, is often presented as what Jesus teaches, a way Wink describes as “impractical, masochistic, and even suicidal.” In this approach, turning the other cheek encourages the doormat metaphor, and going the extra mile has been reduced to going above and beyond the call of duty.

Instead, Jesus’ “third way” is much more radical, and therefore much more interesting.

Wink writes, “Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence… Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent.” [Note: if anyone wants Wink’s analysis of the Greek word translated resist in Matthew 5: 39, I’ll be happy to pass it along.]

THE THREE ILLUSTRATIONS FROM JESUS:

#1: TURN THE OTHER CHEEK: Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek…” Go ahead and get a volunteer in your office and try this one out. Try to punch him/her on the right cheek with your right hand. Not easy, huh? Not easy because Jesus has a point to make with the right/left emphasis here. Wink mentions that at Qumran (a religious community in the days of Jesus), left-handed gestures were forbidden (punished by exclusion and penance). Thus, Jesus isn’t referring to a fistfight among equals: instead, the strike to the right cheek was a degrading backhand to an inferior (e.g. master to slave, husband to wife, parent to child, Roman to Jew). The point was to keep someone in her/his place. Jesus’ advice, then, is not to “take it” as popularly perceived. Instead, Jesus counsels defiance (and to be sure, trouble to follow) by offering the left cheek as a punching bag. Jesus, in effect, proposes a social revolution.

#2: STRIP NAKED: The second example from Jesus involves legal matters. As a result of Roman imperial policy, debt was a HUGE problem in 1st century Palestine. Heavy taxation led the rich to seek ways to hide their wealth, with the procurement of land being a popular choice. Herod Antipas, in particular, regularly pried the Galilean peasants to whom Jesus spoke from their land by his predatory tactics (read: his own high taxation). [Note: Wink mentions that it was no accident that the first act of Jewish revolutionaries in the year 66 was to burn the temple treasury where the debt records were kept!] This debt problem often left the poor Jewish families in danger of being sued down to their outer robes (see Deuteronomy 24: 10-13). So what does Jesus advise? Give them your outer robe, then give them your underwear, and march out of court naked! Imagine the reaction from Jesus’ audience at this teaching! But also imagine the effect of actually doing this: as Wink writes, “The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked…” by “deft lampooning.”

#3: GO THE SECOND MILE: The Roman soldiers could force anyone on the street into service (e.g. Simon of Cyrene and the cross of Jesus), but there were restrictions. They could not force anyone to carry their packs for over one mile. Jesus advises going for two miles. Why? This wasn’t a tactic to express your love and lifelong desire to be a doormat. Instead, the very act was in fact an infraction of military code (with the disciplinary action at the decision of the centurion). Can you imagine the Roman soldier’s reaction when the impressed laborer keeps walking and whistling along? Can you imagine the scene where a Roman soldier is begging the peasant to give his pack back to him? The listeners of Jesus could imagine this, and must have had a rollicking laugh at the very idea. Jesus was not encouraging an act of piety, but an act of revolution where a despicable practice was exposed and neutralized, and people at the bottom of society recovered their very humanity.

A couple of side points need to be made:
(a) These tactics from Jesus could be used vindictively, but are instead to be tempered by a love for the enemy that Jesus will shortly teach as well. The intent is to expose the evil, and in so doing, also redeem the oppressor.
(b) These tactics from Jesus could rarely be repeated. It wouldn’t take long to outlaw nakedness in court or pass a new law to punish those who “carry” packs over one mile. Followers will have to be creative.

But the great news from Jesus in this “third” way is that a social revolution is underfoot. Slow, to be sure, like leaven working through dough or a mustard seed beginning to sprout, but the sign of life is there: where those oppressed by the “powers that be” have begun their liberation.

The world has long been familiar with two ways: fight or flight. Jesus offers a third, however. And those who have “ears to hear” (like Gandhi and Martin Luther King) stand as beacons to a world that continues to need social transformation today.

(NEXT POST: Chapter Six, “Practical Nonviolence”)

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7 Responses to “Jesus’ Third Way (Chapter 5, Wink)”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    And to use Sandi’s workplace as a case study: she could go fight (go down swinging) or flight (move to the feminist mecca of northeast Arkansas!)…

    Or…

    Be creative in resisting the oppressive nature of her workplace?

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Great stuff, Al. I’ve not heard those interpretations / explanations before. No questions, though. Sorry.

  3. Mystique Free Says:

    I like his interpretations but I feel that they’re a bit of a stretch. Maybe just because I’ve never encountered the ideas before.

    I’ll let it gel and see…

  4. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    Okay, I’ll bite. To start, I’ll say that I’m sure there is at least a slight difference between what Wink says and the way you understand it. I say that simply because the way anyone understands what he/she reads is different from the author’s intent, even if only slightly. This is unavoidable.

    First, in your post you mention the Greek word here for resist. If you’d like to supply Wink’s understanding of that, I think it would be helpful to me. As I sit here looking at the Greek text, though, “stand against” would be a literal translation of the word’s two parts, though that is not necessarily all there is to a word. “Resist” seems a fair translation. The question then, is, if Jesus says not to resist an evil person and you (or Wink) is interpreting him to mean nonviolent resistance, how is this possible? I get really nervous when people ascribe motives to others based on what they say, especially when it is simply written in a text.

    Second, the explanation of turn the other cheek, while useful in providing the contextual referent of superior to inferior, is not quite accurate in its interpretation. Jesus does not say, “Instead of letting him/her hit you on the right cheek, turn the left one.” He says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Could this still be an act of defiance? I suppose so, but it is not without letting the insult happen first.

    Third (and lastly), if these are the verses Wink discusses, what does he say about verse 42? Does he say anything? I hope he does. However, these do not fit the nonviolent resistance reading. Giving to someone who asks you is certainly not a form of resistance, but one of love. Not turning away from someone who wants to borrow something from you is not a resistant behavior. Sure, it speaks against those who would not lend because the sabbatical year was coming; it speaks against that unjust practice. However, it does not quite fit the paradigm of Wink’s interpretation. Is this just a specious reading of the text to fit a certain agenda? I wonder such things. Not that he does not have some good points, but what I’ve mentioned I think is enough to get a discussion started here.

  5. Al Sturgeon Says:

    #1: Here’s what Wink writes:

    “The Greek word translated ‘resist’ in Matt. 5:39 is ‘antistenai,’ meaning literally to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have overlooked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare. It describes the way opposing armies would march toward each other until their ranks met. Then they would ‘take a stand,’ that is, fight. Ephesians 6:13 uses precisely this imagery: ‘Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand (antistenai) on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (stenai).’ The image is not of a punch-drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet, but of soldiers standing their ground, refusing to flee. In short, antistenai means more here than simply to ‘resist’ evil. It means to resist violently,to revolt or rebel, to engage in an armed insurrection.

    “The Bible translators working in the hire of King James on what came to be known as the King James Version knew that the king did not want people to conclude that they had any recourse against his or any other sovereign’s tyranny. James had explicitly commanded a new translation of the Bible because of what he regarded as “seditious…dangerous, and trayterous” tendencies in the marginal notes printed in the Geneva Bible, which included endorsement of the right to disobey a tyrant. Therefore the public had to be made to believe that there are two alternatives, and only two: flight or fight. And Jesus is made to command us, according to these king’s men, to resist not. Jesus appears to authorize monarchical absolutism. Submission is the will of God. And most modern translators have meekly followed in that path.

    “Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent. The correct translation would be the one still preserved in the earliest renditions of this saying found in the New Testament epistles: ‘Do not repay evil for evil’ (Rom. 12:17; 1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). The Scholars Version of Matt. 5:39a is superb: ‘Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.'”

    #2: I’m afraid I don’t see your point irt your second comment. I assume that Jesus assumes that insults WILL happen in their society and that his teaching is not on how to prevent insults, but how to react to them when they happen.

    #3: Wink does not refer to verse 42 in the book I’ve read, but you have to remember that “The Powers That Be” is sort of the Cliff’s Notes version of his thick trilogy on the “powers.” I did, however, look in Warren Carter’s commentary on that verse, and Carter seems to subscribe to Wink’s approach.

    To Carter, v 42 still discusses how to live/react in a world of injustice, but v 42 involves a different type of situation. Where the previous verses dealt with being slapped in the face, sued, and impressed into labor, this verse is from the other side: where those possibly “more poor” than you come to you begging for handouts and asking to borrow. In these situations, it is often the poor who turn on each other with the greatest ferocity. Instead, Jesus advocates mercy and justice.

    That’s the best I can do to respond.

    (BTW, don’t forget the standing offer for YOU to write the religion stuff! You do it tons better than me, and I’d much prefer you leading the discussion! In the meanwhile, I’ll keep posting something.)

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I think (and this will surprise no one) I disagree with everybody — that is, both Wink’s reading and Duane’s.

    It’s not that I reject Wink’s point, necessarily, it’s that I think it’s a mistake to read the second halves of these “you have heard…but I say…” sayings as commandments. Jesus is not replacing the former commandment with a new commandment. He’s trying to teach us how to think — how to find our way to the best available option in a fallen world.

    None of these “but I say…” sayings is intended to be a new command we’re supposed to rigidly adhere to. They’re moral paradigms, from which we’re supposed to learn how to do moral reasoning like Jesus.

    So, I think it’s stretching things to take these passages where Wink takes them. I don’t think we can lean that heavily on the literal content of the examples Jesus selected. They’re just examples. I do think they teach something revolutionary, but not in the directly political sense that Wink suggests.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I don’t see what you’re saying as THAT different from Wink. He, too, would say that these won’t work over once, so I believe he’d subscribe to your idea that “[t]hey’re moral paradigms, from which we’re supposed to learn how to do moral reasoning…”

    That’s my guess.

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