As we’re preparing to move a family of four to Bolivia, we realized once again that we have a lot of stuff. Only so much fits on a plane. It turns out that Legos are actually more important than my clothes. I certainly don’t want to pay someone to store boxes of our stuff that we obviously don’t need just so we can have a house full of junk when we get back. Giving your stuff away is really hard when you’re going through it by yourself. You find yourself attached to silly things for bad reasons. When someone is in your house and you are giving them things, it suddenly becomes much easier. Generosity breeds more generosity.
It’s amazing how moving to another hemisphere in a matter of weeks can really heighten your sense of what’s necessary and what’s not. It puts things in perspective.
In the Food in the Bible series I’ve already been through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but I skipped over 5:38-42.
You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
During School For Conversion we had an entire session on Resisting the Powers that unpacked this passage a la Walter Wink, focusing on 39-41 as possible examples of creative nonviolent resistance. I’ve been down that road before and it was definitely helpful and shaped my approach to nonviolence. It seems to me that verse 42 is the one that really challenges us.
It’s easy to romanticize the idea of resistance. You’re doing something, accomplishing something, without necessarily having to change much about yourself. In fact, resistance is sometimes about creating the world in our own image. We’re trying to get others to adopt our perspective and come around to our way of seeing things. Sometimes, not always, this becomes what activism is all about.
The biblical notion of resistance really flies in the face of this kind of resistance. In verse 42 Jesus is asking us to reorient our whole perspective on how we relate to material goods. If someone asks us for money or help and we refuse, then we are just as addicted to our money or possessions as they might be to drugs and alcohol. Kind of turns our usual take on giving to beggars and the poor on its head. Turns out when we decide whether or not to give to people, we are the ones being judged on how we view our money and possessions.
Obviously we all need things like food, clothing and shelter in order to live on this planet. The question is how we relate to the things we have. How do we hold our possessions and our money? With a clenched fist or an open hand? Do we find security in our abundance or possessions or the open community that freely shares what it has? The model of the early church is the latter. If we break our addiction to money and possessions, we find that we live in communities of abundance that can easily provide for every need and also meet the needs of those around us.
Instead of focusing on how we can manipulate, influence or persuade the world around us to behave or legislate into reality the world we believe in, we should focus on being faithful communities that embody an alternative reality, revealing what is possible in the midst of a broken world. Embodying that future kingdom may lead us into action and resistance as we advocate for those in our community who are marginalized and oppressed by the world. But it is a byproduct of obedience and faithfulness, not the goal.