Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
- Matthew 5:9
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus told his disciples they should no longer live by the law of equal retribution - an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.
Instead, He seemed to say, whenever they were robbed or harmed in any way, they should turn the other cheek and let their offenders mistreat them some more.
But if we are to take this Scripture literally and agree that retaliation is not the way Gods people should act, then when Jesus found a group of merchants trading money and goods inside the Temple, why did He pick up a whip, upend their tables, and drive them out the door? Why didnt He suggest they add a food court along one of the aisles instead?
In the days following the terrorist attack on our country, as radio and television hosts filled the holes in their non-stop coverage with call-in shows, a young woman asked
National Public Radios Scott Simon, Why is President Bush declaring war? Why doesnt he declare peace instead? If we hurt those people back, then were no better than they are. I dont think we should fight at all.
Simons response was polite, but direct: Maam, what do you think would have happened to the world if we had turned the other cheek to Adolph Hitler?
So, whos right: Jesus and the peaceful lady on NPR, or Simon, President Bush, and an estimated 90 per cent of the American people?
The more I study the Bible, the more stunned I am that Gods Word addresses every situation the world or I find ourselves in - and the more I realize how much studying I need to do to understand what it all means. This week, for instance, Ive learned theres much more to the other-cheek issue than meets the eye for an eye.
Far from an act of savagery, the idea of equal retribution was the ancient worlds first attempt to temper justice with mercy. Limited vengeance, having the punishment fit the crime, was far better than the former tribal law, which decreed that if a member of one tribe injured someone from another, the victims whole tribe could attack the whole tribe of the perpetrator.
The disciples must have been as bewildered as we are when Jesus said even this standard of justice isnt enough. Are we supposed to just let murderers and terrorists go free? And if we do, would that make the world a more peaceful place?
Digging deeper than the sound-bite familiarity most of us have with this Scripture, Biblical scholars remind us of original language, and the evolution of word meanings. When Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek, etc., he meant they should not be people who insist on their rights, sue for a missing coat, or return insult for insult - minor things, nothing close to the atrocities for which nations and the courts have always demanded justice, or sought protection from those who could inflict more harm.
The young NPR caller, and the small groups who are marching for peace across the country may have good intentions, but they havent thought their actions through. Life isnt the utopia they wish it was; its the way it is. Even the peace they want isnt the way they wish it was. Comparing the peace of the world with the peace Jesus promised in John 14:27, commentator William Barclay writes:
The peace Jesus promised means everything for our highest good, while the peace the world offers is the peace of escape, the avoidance of trouble, and the refusal to face things. Jesus peace is internal, and independent of outward circumstances.
Today, as we try to fix the holes in our nations security, its not the warmongers against the demonstrators, us against them. We all want peace. Unfortunately, in this instance, were more apt to achieve it with weapons and a well thought out system of defense, than with protest signs and denying that a life and death problem exists.
The terrorists have been selling their goods in our sacred places too long. Its time to upend a few tables.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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