Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Saturday, September 29, 2007

INCREASE OUR FAITH? WHAT KIND OF FAITH?

"Increase our faith!" That is the passionate cry of Jesus' disciples in the Gospel reading for Sunday. Increase means give more, but what sort of faith are they asking for?

A few weeks ago, we read about the four basic sorts of faith that are highlighted in Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity.

Fiducia: This is faith as trusting in God. There are many examples of this sort of faith outside of the Christian tradition. In matters of money, we speak of fiduciary responsibility. When we are looking for banks and other institutions in which we can deposit our money, we want to be able to trust such institutions.

But faith as trust also applies to all human relationships. Can you really love someone you don't trust? Can you be vulnerable in a relationship with a partner who is not trustworthy?

At some deep and unconscious level we have trust that the sun will rise in the East and set in the west; that our hearts will beat and our blood will continue to flow; and our lungs will bring life giving air to our bodies.

On the currency of the United States of America, we see the words: "In God we trust" written. Today, the question is what is the nature of God? What sort of God do we really trust with our present and current lives?

Visio: The next word used to define faith is "Visio" and raises the question of the nature of God and what God is passionate about. The word God seems to fit a wide variety of understandings of the Divine nature and will (passion).

When we say “God,” who is this one in whom we place our trust and to whom we vow to be loyal? Is our god the god of war like the ancient Mars; a god of the dead, like Jupiter; or a god of family or tribe or nation? Who is the God of Jesus whom we claim to follow as our Lord and Savior?

So faith as a vision of God's nature and will is very important. I have heard some members of A.A and other anonymous groups suggest that we are as sick as our Higher Powers. So, when we speak of faith as a vision of God's nature and will, we are saying as much about ourselves as we are about the god in whom we have faith.

Assensus:
This definition of faith sees assent to doctrines, dogmas, and disciplines established by the historic community of faith as the path of being a faithful person.
These statements of faith contain the consensus understanding of the vision of God (nature and will) held by a given community of faith. Creeds, prayers, and practices are the expressions of such statements of faith.

For many people, simply assenting to such statements of faith is what faith is all about. What we say we believe and how we express our faith is what the world judges us on. When we claim that God is a loving Father who embraces all of his children, our actions tell the world if we really believe in such a God.

In a recent poll conducted by the Barna Group, 16 to 29 year olds in the United States were asked how they viewed Christianity. It was sad to read that for a large majority of these folks Christianity was viewed as too judgmental, too hypocritical, and too old fashioned.

This group of young adults were equally clear (91% of those outside of the church) about where the church stands on homosexuality and saw the church as exhibiting "excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a 'bigger sin' than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians."

Of course, we can dismiss this generations criticisms of the church by either saying they don't know enough about the church to judge us or that we are not doing the things that the young are questioning. I am sure there are many other ways that we can turn a deaf ear to those who are "outside" the church, but I wonder if the way they see the church is God's way of getting our attention and calling us to change our ways.

Fidelitas: Faith as loyalty to God means that we need to be aware of what God would have us to do and then follow that path with steadfastness. The younger generation made the same complaint about Christianity that has been lodged in almost every generation: "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus." This is not just the opinion of those outside the church, but is true of those inside the church.

This brings us back to the disciples' demand, "Increase our Faith!" Our appointed reading does not give us the context for this impassioned request. Why were they shouting for more faith? Here are the words of Jesus that immediately precede our passage:

"If your brother or sister sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he or she sins against you seven times and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent', forgive them."

In a world in which we constantly offend and trespass against our neighbors, forgiveness is like the blood that nurtures, brings life, and removes toxic wastes from our bodies. When we claim Christ as our Lord and our Savior, we come under the compassionate and forgiving blood of the Lamb of God. Lord, increase our faith as trust, loyalty, and assenting to the God who offers his forgiving life, nature, and passion to the world. Let our faith be the sign to every generation that God is working in us and through us. Lord, increase our faith!"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dying Together: Lazarus and the Rich Man


A meditation on the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man found in St. Luke’s Gospel and first offered on October 1, 1989 at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Palos Verdes Estates, California. RWC+


Poor, sick, dying Lazarus---
All you had on earth
Was your name
and
your great poverty.

Poor, sick, dying Rich Man---
all you had on earth
was your anonymity
and
your great wealth.

Poor, sick, dying Lazarus---
all you needed were
the crumbs off
the Rich Man’s Table.

Poor, sick, dying Rich Man---
all you needed was to share
Lazarus’ great poverty
so you could know
God’s greater wealth.

Poor, sick, dying Lazarus-Rich Man---
you both died
for lack
of one another.

CRUMBS? A FINGER DIIPED IN COOL WATER? A FAIR TRADE?

GOD ONLY KNOWS.

Lazarus! Lazarus! Speak to me!
Come to me!
Cool me!
Save me!
It is hard to believe in my own poverty, let alone God, the resurrection, my need for Lazarus, for Moses, for the Prophets, for the Christ.

Who and what can I believe?

CRUMBS? A FINGER DIPPED IN COOL WATER?
A FAIR TRADE?

GOD ONLY KNOWS.

Larzarus! Lazarus! My brother! My sister! My soul!

Speak to me!

Come to me!

Cool me!

Save me!

Before we both die.

Monday, September 17, 2007

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: CUTTING OUR LOSSES









In the introduction to this week's Gospel Reflection that was included in the Email Update for the week (to subscribe go to www.christchurchrb.org), I posed two questions:

Question: Does doing an act that results in good require that the one doing the act be motivated by self-less love?

Question: If we die to self and allow Christ to live in us, does this mean that Christ is acting through us to forgive others?


As you read through the prophet Amos' scorching words today, he does not seem to be concerned with why the rich have acted as they have. He does not seem to be interested in the psychological reasons for their behavior, but rather how their actions have impacted the poor. Our reading ends without Amos calling for a change of behavior. He simply describes their behavior and reminds them that God will not forget what they have done.

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.'

From Amos' threatening that God will not forget what the rich have done to the poor, we sit and listen to Jesus tell a story and what a story it is! When I put myself in the manager's shoes, I can feel that horrible flush of red boiling up inside of me and turning my face bright red. How horrible it is to be caught doing something wrong.

But the manager in Jesus' story does not seem to be embarrassed or shamed when he is caught. Like the rich to whom Amos addressed his fiery words, the manager and the rich master he served seemed to be unrepentant for the damage they have done to those in debt to them. Rather, his first concern seems to be how he can land on his feet financially after he gets the boot. As you can probably guess, for the manager, it was all about him and his needs. The story continues:

Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.'

The manager did not want to do the sort of work that those who are poor have to do (dig or beg). In fact, his only possible shame comes not from cheating his master and the poor with whom he dealt, but over being viewed by others as cursed in poverty, poverty that he himself had help create and perpetuate through his dishonesty.

The manager was a money man, not a slave who digs or a beggar who begs. Jesus’ followers were mostly people whose families and personal lives had been destroyed financially by men such as the manager and the rich man for whom he worked. So, I doubt that these poor folks had much sympathy for either of the characters in Jesus’ story.

As Jesus tells this story, do you feel sympathy for either the rich man or the manager? Or, do you wish that both the rich man and the manager were "fired" by God as stewards of his wealth?

Did the manager play his hand right? It seems he did.

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Remember that this story is being told to Jesus’ disciples. Collectively, they are not wealthy. Other than Levi, the tax collector, those whom Jesus called were among the folks who had to work hard for their living. So, what is the point of telling this story to them?

Forgiveness of debt was a rare thing. Forgiving debt would ultimately lead to a redistribution of wealth in the world and reduce the number of the rich and those who suffered in terrible poverty. Is this the kind of world that Amos believed would come if God's ways were followed? Is this the kind of world for which Jesus' prayed "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven?"

To pray for a new way of living and sharing may be the first step in changing our world. Or, like the manager, our actions of forgiving the debts of others, may just begin to change our world whether we are motivated to do God's will or not. Forgiveness is God's way of being God. God forgives with the same ease that we breath in and out.

Perhaps the manager, through his shrewdness, has allowed God's will to be done. Jesus says as much when commenting upon the story he tells. To participate in the life of God may begin for many of us by simply immitating God's generocity. Forgiving the spiritual debt of the rich is not condoning their actions against the poor.

God's justice demands that violence and power that create poverty be ended.This is the message of the prophets. God's love and mercy demands that rich and poor alike be brought together in peace. Jesus' story seems to suggest that our path to this time of shalom will come about through the most unusual circumstances and sometimes through self centered people trying to save themselves from financial ruin and social disgrace.

Jesus may be saying to all of us that we have a chance to repent, to turn around from the sins that create and maintain wealth at the expense of others.The course of action for such of us is demonstrated by the manager. He makes friends with the poor by forgiving their debts and he makes friends with his rich master by making him look good in the eyes of the people (wealthy and powerful people don’t like to be taken advantage of or be made to seem a fool).

Is Jesus suggesting that the motive for forgiving debt or sins can be less than pure love? It seems so. The result of such repentance is that those in financial debt are forgiven their debts and those who repent of having created such inequities are “welcomed into the eternal homes.”

When it comes to forgiveness that results in relief of another’s burdens, are personal motivations are irrelevant. Disciples of Christ are commanded to spread the Good News that God is in the business of forgiveness and he wants us to be his partners.

Here is how Jesus ends this story of forgiven debt:

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

It appears that faithfulness in forgiving small debts or sins is a litmus test for being able to forgive big debts and sins against us. In fact, Jesus calls lack of faithfulness, dishonest. Why? Perhaps it is because if God is forgiving everyone continually as a way of allowing all of us to change, our refusal to forgive debts or sins is a form of stealing what has been given to us to share with others. When we don’t share, we are wasting a gift God has given to us all.

You no doubt have seen those who campaign against the sins of others while wrapping themselves in a self-righteous and self-justifying religious, political, social, or economic flag or other symbol. This would appear to be a clear case of dishonesty in sharing the grace of God with others.

To whom are you indebted, Jesus asks. Mammon is perhaps the wealth and abundance of a loving and forgiving God which is horded by a powerful few. Jesus says that to serve God is to share the wealth of God, whether it is the resources of our planet or the merciful giving of a chance and time to change. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgive for any reason, selfish or altruistic, just forgive. The act of forgiving changes us and the way the world goes.

Forgiving little slights and hurts is the training for faithfulness in larger sins and debts. God is all forgiving and invites us to be his partner. Can we make a deal?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

WHO IS REALLY LOST?


Whenever I read the Gospel for this coming Sunday, I find the parable of the shepherd who goes in search for the one lost sheep a real challenge. It challenges me because so often we think of the lost sheep as the down and out sinner who is pretty easy for us to identify as blatantly doing things that God and our society deem to be wicked or unacceptable.

But is this the lost sheep that the shepherd is really seeking? We may get that idea from the setting of this parable. Luke records that “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus.” Ah, so Jesus, like the shepherd in his parable is seeking these lost sinners and inviting them to repent and change their ways.

I do believe that Jesus does seek those in every generation who are marginalized by the religious leadership of their day. I do believe that Jesus’ message of a loving God who forgives and invites us to do the same is the shepherd of our souls. But in this particular setting who might better fit the description of a lost sheep?

After noting that sinners and tax collectors were listening to Jesus, Luke says that the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Perhaps the truly lost sheep is really these leaders who are not listening, but judging. It is hard to be open to grace if we are busy judging others. And it is especially difficult to accept our lostness if we believe that we are the ones who define who is lost.

Jesus’ stories about a sheep and a coin that are lost do not point a condemnatory finger at these religious people who grumble at his actions. In fact, the parables end with a note of celebration. Imagine if all of those who use religion to judge others harshly were suddenly to change. Jesus says that such turning back to God (repentance) results in a heavenly celebration. God and his angels rejoice and invite those of us who dwell on earth to join the celebration.

St. Paul lays claim to being lost until the grace and love of God found him on the road to Damascus. In our reading from I Timothy on Sunday, Paul says of himself:

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.

Paul was not a tax collector nor a sinner by the standards of the religious establishment. Indeed, he says he was keeping the law perfectly. And yet, he calls himself “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.”

Why a blasphemer?

Blasphemy is an anglicized form of the Greek term blasphemia, which scholars believe probably derives from two roots, blapto, to injure, and pheme, to speak. So one who blasphemes speaks against someone in such a way as to cause injury to the person. Paul believed that his words against Jesus and against those who followed Jesus had resulted in injury to them. The Pharisees and scribes who grumbled against Jesus were saying that he had an evil spirit. Such evil was normally dealt with by violence against the person so charged.

Is this any different today?

By declaring that a person is evil or that a group of people are evil, we see religious, national, and power groups justify acts of violence. This week we remember the events of September 11, 2001. Those who launched the attacks on the WTC and caused death and destruction elsewhere, did so in the name of a god for whom violence is a justified by declaring the enemies they attack evil. Paul declared Jesus to be evil and thereby declared the God whom Jesus called Father, evil. This was his self-confessed blasphemy.

Why a persecutor?

Once Paul declared Jesus and those who followed him evil, the next step was to systematically go after those who followed Jesus. Notice that in Paul’s confession he does not call himself “the defender of the true faith.” The grace of God allowed Paul to see himself truly and completely. God’s love allowed Paul to see his ignorance and unbelief with complete honesty.

Why a man of violence?

Paul no longer saw violence as acceptable for those who followed the God of Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” On September 11, 1906, Gandhi started the non-violence movement known as satyagraha.*

Paul was transformed from a man of violence to a man of peace. Jesus' death revealed and judged our use of violence against others. Paul was the lost sheep that Jesus found and brought home.

Paul wrote of his change of heart and soul:

But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

So, who is the lost sheep of whom Jesus speak?

Perhaps it is each of us who speak evil of others or who keep silent when such blasphemy is being spoken.

Perhaps it is each of us when our sense of religious or secular zeal leads to targeting those against whom we have spoken.

Perhaps it is each of us when our words and actions lead ultimately to violence to others.

The Good News we hear today is that God as shepherd or the searching woman are seeking us, not to condemn us, but to bring us into the celebration of grace, mercy, and life.

Who will be at the party?

In addition to ourselves, we will find those against whom we have spoken evil or acted against with malice. We will find Jesus, the tax collectors, and sinners. We will finally come home to God.

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVdVBHvAs2A

* Satya is the Sanskrit word for “truth,” and graha (from the Sanskrit root grah cognate with English word “grab” or “hold on to”) can be rendered as “effort/endeavor.” The term was popularized during the Indian Independence Movement, and is used in many Indian languages including Hindi.
Gandhi described it as follows:
Its root meaning is holding on to truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on one’s self.[1]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"I AM THE WAY..."


Walter Wink
"The Third Way"
Program #3707
First broadcast November 14, 1993

Biography

Dr. Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. A former parish minister, Walter has taught at Union Theological Seminary and was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. He is a frequent lecturer on peace and justice issues and is the author of many books. He writes frequently for magazines like "Sojourners" and "The Other Side." [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted above.]

"The Third Way"


One of the most misunderstood passages in all of the Bible is Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek. The passage runs this way: "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. And if anyone takes you to court and sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well. If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two."

This passage has generally been understood by people as teaching non-resistance. Do not resist one who is evil has been taken to mean simply let them run all over you. Give up all concern for your own justice. If they hit you on one cheek, turn the other and let them batter you there too, which has been bad advice for battered women. As far as the soldier forcing you to take his pack an extra mile, well are you doing that voluntarily? It has become a platitude meaning extend yourself.

Jesus could not have meant those kinds of things. He resisted evil with every fiber of His being. There is not a single instance in which Jesus does not resist evil when He encounters it. The problem begins right there with the word resist. The Greek term is antistenai. Anti is familiar to us in English still, "against," "Anti"-Defamation League. Stenai means to stand. So, "stand against." Resist is not a mistranslation so much as an undertranslation. What has been overlooked is the degree to which antistenai is used in the Old Testament in the vast majority of cases as a technical term for warfare. To "stand against" refers to the marching of the two armies up against each other until they actually collide with one another and the battle ensues. That is called "taking a stand."

Ephesians 6:13 says, "Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand (antistenai) in that evil day and having done all to stand (stenai)."

The image there is not of a punch drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet even though he is being pummeled by his adversary. It is to keep on fighting. Don't retreat. Don't give up. Don't turn your back and flee but stay in there and fight to the bitter end.

When Jesus says, "Do not resist one who is evil," there is something stronger than simply resist. It's do not resist violently. Jesus is indicating do not resist evil on its own terms. Don't let your opponent dictate the terms of your opposition. If I have a hoe and my opponent has a rifle, I am obviously going to have to get a rifle in order to fight on equal terms, but then my opponent gets a machine gun, so I have to get a machine gun. You have a spiral of violence that is unending.

Jesus is trying to break that spiral of violence. Don't resist one who is evil probably means something like, don't turn into the very thing you hate. Don't become what you oppose. The earliest translation of this is probably in a version of Romans 12 where Paul says, "Do not return evil for evil."

Jesus gives three examples of what He means by not returning evil for evil. The first of these is, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." Imagine if I were your assailant and I were to strike a blow with my right fist at your face, which cheek would it land on? It would be the left. It is the wrong cheek in terms of the text we are looking at. Jesus says, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek..." I could hit you on the right cheek if I used a left hook, but that would be impossible in Semitic society because the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. You couldn't even gesture with your left hand in public. The only way I could hit you on the right cheek would be with the back of the hand.

Now the back of the hand is not a blow intended to injure. It is a symbolic blow. It is intended to put you back where you belong. It is always from a position of power or superiority. The back of the hand was given by a master to a slave or by a husband to a wife or by a parent to a child or a Roman to a Jew in that period. What Jesus is saying is in effect, "When someone tries to humiliate you and put you down, back into your social location which is inferior to that person, and turn your other cheek."

Now in the process of turning in that direction, if you turned your head to the right, I could no longer backhand you. Your nose is now in the way. Furthermore, you can't backhand someone twice. It's like telling a joke a second time. If it doesn't work the first time, it has failed. By turning the other cheek, you are defiantly saying to the master, "I refuse to be humiliated by you any longer. I am a human being just like you. I am a child of God. You can't put me down even if you have me killed." This is clearly no way to avoid trouble. The master might have you flogged within an inch of your life, but he will never be able to assert that you have no dignity.

The second instance Jesus gives is, "If anyone takes you to court and sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well." The situation here is dealing with collateral for a loan. If a person was trying to get a loan, normally they would use animals or land as collateral for the loan but the very poorest of the poor, according to Deuteronomy 24:10-13, could hock their outer garment. It was the long robe that they used to sleep in at night and used as an overcoat by day. The creditor had to return this garment every night but could come get it every morning and thus harass the debtor and hopefully get him to repay.

Jesus' audience is made up of debtors -- "If anyone takes you to court..." He is talking to the very people who know they are going to be dragged into court for indebtedness and they know also that the law is on the side of the wealthy. They are never going to win a case. So Jesus says to them, "Okay, you are not going to win the case. So take the law and with jujitsu-like finesse, throw it into a point of absurdity. When your creditor sues you for your outer garment, give your undergarment as well."

They didn't have underwear in those days. That meant taking off the only stitch of clothing you had left on you and standing nude, naked, in court. As the story of Jonah reminds us, nakedness was not only taboo in Israel. The shame of nakedness fell not on the person who was naked, but on the person who observed their nakedness. The creditor is being put in the position of being shamed by the nakedness of the debtor. Imagine the debtor leaving the courtroom, walking out in the street and all of his friends coming and seeing him in his all-togethers and saying, "What happened to you?"

He says, "That creditor has got all my clothes," and starts walking down to his house. People are coming out of bazaars and alleys, "What happened? What happened?" Everyone is talking about it and chattering and falling in behind him, fifty-hundred people marching down in this little demonstration toward his house. You can imagine it is going to be some time in that village before any creditor takes anybody else to court.

What Jesus is showing us in these two examples so far is that you don't have to wait for a utopian revolution to come along before you can start living humanly. You can begin living humanly now under the conditions of the old order. The kingdom of God is breaking into the myths of these people now, the moment they begin living the life of the future, the kingdom of God.

Jesus' third example is "If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two." Now these packs weighed 65 to 85 pounds, not counting weapons. These soldiers had to move quickly to get to the borders where trouble had broken out. The military law made it permissible for a soldier to grab a civilian and force the civilian to carry the pack, but only one mile. There were mile markers on every Roman road. If -- and this is the part we have left out -- the civilian were forced to carry the pack more than one mile, the soldier was in infraction of military code, and military code was always more strictly enforced than civilian. So Jesus is saying, "All right. The next time the soldier forces you to carry his pack, cooperate. Carry it and then when you come to the mile marker, keep going."

The soldier suddenly finds himself in a position he has never been in before. He has always known before exactly what you would do. You would mutter and you would complain, but you would carry it. As soon as the mile marker came, you would drop it. Suddenly, this person is carrying the pack on. The soldier doesn't know why, but he also knows that he is in infraction of military law and if his centurion finds out about this, he is in deep trouble. Jesus is teaching these people how to take the initiative away from their oppressors and within the situation of that old order, find a new way of being.

It is interesting that Gandhi said, "Everyone in the world knows that Jesus and His teaching is non-violent, except Christians." What Jesus is articulating here is a way of living in the world without violence, a way of overcoming domination in all of its forms by using a way that will not create new forms of violence. In the past, we have thought we had only two choices, either resist evil or don't resist evil. Jesus seemed to be saying, "Don't resist evil," and, therefore, non-resistance seemed to be the only alternative. Be supine, submit, surrender, flee, give up. It seems as if Jesus were asking us to be a doormat for God, to give up all concern for our own justice as well as the justice of others. Now we see in this passage interpreted in a new light, Jesus is not calling on people to be non-resistant. He is calling on them to be non-violent. He is calling on them to resist, yes, but to resist in a way that is not injurious or harmful to the other person.

In just the last few year, non-violence has emerged in a way that no one ever dreamed it could emerge in this world. In 1989 alone, there were thirteen nations that underwent non-violent revolutions. All of them successful except one, China. That year 1.7 billion people were engaged in national non-violent revolutions. That is a third of humanity. If you throw in all of the other non-violent revolutions in all the other nations in this century, you get the astonishing figure of 3.34 billion people involved in non-violent revolutions. That is two-thirds of the human race. No one can ever again say that non-violence doesn't work. It has been working like crazy. It is time the Christian churches got involved in this revolution because what is happening in the world is that the world itself is discovering the truth of Jesus' teaching, and here we come in the church, bringing up the rear.

This is the most exciting time a person could imagine to be alive. The gospel has never been more relevant. The world has never been more ready.