It’s Good Friday, a good day for philosophy. Here goes.
In the 1930s, Muhatma Ghandi famously used the unlikely tactic of nonviolent resistance to overcome the British colonial occupation of India. Nonviolent resistance is rarely applied on such a scale. But Jesus espoused an even more radical philosophy: Complete nonresistance:
You’ve heard it said “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist evil. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek to them as well.
If a man sues you and takes away your coat, let him have your cloak as well. If someone compels you to go a mile, go two with him. Give to those that ask, and don’t refuse those who want to borrow from you.
You have heard it said: “Love your neighbours and hate your enemies”. I say: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who despise, use, and persecute you.
Be the children of heaven, for the sun rises on the evil and on the good, and rain is sent to the just and the unjust.
You can understand how this must have been puzzling to the masses. It goes against all common sense, not to mention the law of Moses, which Jesus quoted at the outset. Even passive resistance merely submits to violence in protest. Jesus seems to encourage those suffering violence to willingly invite more. Why would he make such an outrageous suggestion?
I believe that the answer lies not in mental gymnastics that try to re-frame Jesus’s words as merely advocating nonviolent resistance or a commandment against taking vengeance, but in his apocalyptic message.
In the coming kingdom of heaven on earth, there will be no violence. Before that happens, we must all learn to be enlightened. Jesus wanted people to understand that an enlightened person, if struck by someone who was not ready to enter the kingdom, would not respond with violence, nor even with enmity. If they did so, they themselves would not be ready. This is why, in his words:
Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.