The opponent, bruised and battered, faced him across the mat. After the underhanded schemes and prohibited strikes (‘Sweep the leg’), he could barely stand! All Johnny had to do was deliver one swift, well-aimed punch and the valley would remain in the cold vice grip of the Cobra Kai. The referee signalled and Johnny rushed in for the kill. And then – THWACK!! – a crane kick to the face. He had fallen victim to Daniel Larusso’s secret weapon, the signature move of the Miyagi family, passed down through the generations from father to son, from teacher to student. Against it, there was no defence!
It may surprise us, given American Christianity’s troubling allegiance to political and military strength, that the church began its life as a pacifist group. But it did. Thus, kicking our adversaries in the face never really found a place in our repertoire of moves. On the contrary, of the various ‘weapons’ we were commanded to wield, by far the most powerful is love – more specifically, self-sacrificing love.
Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth?
I know what many of you (even many of my Christian brothers and sisters) would say at this point: ‘Sure, love’s fine for people who live in houses of reclaimed wood, wear hand-woven parachute pants and spend their days munching granola, smoking various herbs and playing hand drums. But here on the ground, we need something more tangible! The only way to respond to a strike is with a bigger strike. The world is full of evildoers and superior force is necessary keep them in check.’
Yes, this is the conventional wisdom of the day. Our nations, for the most part, espouse the idea that military might can solve problems. Yet looking at even the last few centuries of world history, I’m forced to question from where exactly this wisdom comes. It seems evident that fury begets fury, violence begets violence, attack begets counterattack, power begets powerful resistance, ad nauseam. And whenever we feel like we’ve ‘won’, that we’ve beaten back or beaten down our enemies with overwhelming firepower, we realise that we’ve only added fuel to fire and given them further reasons to react in hatred.
Jesus in a World of Violence
What makes love different? Is it really a viable answer, or merely a spineless capitulation? I’d suggest that a response of self-sacrificing love is not only viable, but a form of defiance, one that disarms adversaries and strips them of their power.
Jesus himself instructed his hearers not to forcefully resist (‘ἀντιστῆναι’ – it’s a military term) an adversary. When they come to strip you of your shirt, you give them your coat too. When they force you to carry their $#!% for a mile, you carry it two miles. When they punch you in the face, you offer the other cheek right back to them.
‘Sure, that’s what he said, but seeing the situations we’re facing in the modern world, he’d certainly understand and speak differently.’
That’s simply failing to appreciate just how dangerous and hostile Jesus’ world really was. The Roman regime was brutal and unforgiving. They saw Galilee and Judea as backwater frontier provinces, with unruly populations they generally despised. Roman soldiers were at liberty to do any of the things Jesus commanded his disciples not to resist – and far more! Most were ruthless, battle-hardened, well-trained killers. And they weren’t the only ones adept at using violent means to accomplish their ends. An environment where political and military oppression butted heads with nationalistic religious fervour naturally gave rise to revolutionaries, who could just as easily exact vengeance on their own countrymen deemed to be ‘selling out’ as they could on the Romans.
In reality, Jesus experienced far more violence and understood its many forms far better than the great majority of us. So when he said what he said, it wasn’t idle talk. To prove it, he walked the walk, enduring false accusations, stripping, scourging, humiliation and torture at the hands of adversaries – responding not with protest, but with words of forgiveness.
Acts of Defiance
Jesus’ modern followers, more specifically those in Western countries, have a problem. We’ve chosen to value and pursue wealth, possessions, influence, ‘freedom’, ‘rights’, safety and security – and we’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve and defend them! These are our pressure points – affording almost anyone the power to threaten us with the things we’re afraid to lose.
By contrast, the acts of sacrificial love Jesus commanded and lived out are defiant. They say to one’s ‘enemies’, ‘You have nothing that I want.’ They say, ‘I’ll take your best shot.’ They say, ‘You have no weapon to use against me.’ If we choose to cling to nothing, not even to life itself, what power can anyone hold over us?
Make no mistake, love ain’t weak. It’s true power. Maybe we should think about using our secret weapon far more often than we do.
- Feature Image: An intricate drawing in pen by Renee (my beautiful wife!) based on the statue in Love Park in one of our hometowns – Philadelphia.
- Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid (from pattonoswald.com)