WHY GO THE SECOND MILE?

The following is an excerpt from Walter Wink’s book, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. (emphasis mine)

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Why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.

Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.

Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.

A lesson from Church history.

“Therefore, we as a body of Christians, while proposing to fulfill all obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life since this is contrary to our view of the clear teaching of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.”
 
The Assemblies of God made this resolution to their bylaws on April 28, 1917. In 1967 they reversed their position, adopting a position of personal freedom and conscience. The ‘clear teaching’ of scripture was given a backseat to human reason and the desire of individual persons.
 
This is not to pick on the Assemblies of God. To be fair, many other American denominations also observed seismic changes in their doctrine and bylaws following WWII. Many factors contributed to these changes, but none greater than the fear of the great evil witnessed in WWII and the roaring nationalism that followed the war.
 
It could be said, that when the church looked up and saw world erupting in evil, they looked not to God, but to the Empire for answers. I don’t think this is entirely true. I don’t think the church failed to look to God. I believe the church misjudged the call to love their enemies as simply a strategy of getting what they wanted by other means. It failed. Whereas, the Empires’ solution, as old as Cain, proved effective. In fact, it is the effectiveness of war and murder that makes their offer so intoxicating. The ends, thus, justified the means, as the church forgot that its mission is not judged on the ability or swiftness to procure justice or peace. The church has been called to participate and bear witness to the work of God.
 
You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:43-48

What Nonresistance Is and Is Not

“[Nonresistance] has been interpreted – by those who reject the idea – to mean a weak acceptance of the intentions of the evil one, resignation to his evil goals. This the text does not call for. The services to be rendered to the one who coerces us – carrying his burden a second mile, giving beyond the coat and cloak – are to his person, not to his purposes. The “resistance” which we renounce is a response in kind, returning evil for evil. But the alternative is not complicity in his designs. The alternative is creative concern for the person who is bent on evil, coupled with the refusal of his goals.”

John Howard Yoder

The Problem When We Talk About Biblical Authorship

 

The post-mortem details about Moses in Deuteronomy, the superscripts that begin most of the Psalms, the ending of the Gospel of Mark, the story of the women caught in adultery in John 8, or even the process by which each of the books and letters gained entrance into the Bible itself…all of these examples of editorializing in the Bible can be shocking—even troubling—when single divine authorship of the Bible is taught and assumed. The Bible did not come to humanity as golden tablets sent from heaven, nor was the product of a few singular holy men. The Bible is unashamedly a unit of documents created through and knit together by communal authorship, editorializing, and Spirit-led discernment. This is why I really appreciate Paul’s words about the text being “God-breathed”(2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul’s  statement is not about authors, it a statement about the cannon (i.e. complete list) of Hebrew Scriptures (and specifically it’s purpose in character formation).

** A few other examples of the compiled and editorialized nature of the Scripture: Proverbs 1:1, 25:1, 31:1; Jeremiah 36:32; Luke 1:1-4

However, the issue of authorship can not only cause a crisis of faith when the when the truth of how the Bible was patched and quilted together is discovered, I believe it also causes problems for the practice of biblical interpretation and communal discernment.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

If the Bible is not being spoken of as the dictated words of God, then the weight of the conversation of authorship is being placed upon the shoulders of a few singular holy (male) authors. Yet, because the focus is placed on these original human authors, the conversation concerning interpretation is bound to their authorial intent. Thus, great effort and resources are given to trying to uncover and recreate these authors, their thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and the situations which may have given rise to texts. In similar fashion, the conversation of original authorship and textual criticism occurs in large part as a way to delegitimize and remove problem texts created by the attempt to recreate the original the text, authors, and their intent.

Textual criticism is not without value, nor are the resources that help us better understand the authors and the cultures and setting of the text. However, textual criticism and a pure historical-grammatical approach to the text are far from complete in helping us make sense of the text entrusted to us in light of the revealed Son of God, Jesus Christ (the very thing modeled by Apostles, the early church, and the New Testament text itself).

COMMUNAL DISCERNMENT

“God told me …” is often an unsettling declaration, not only because of what may follow but because it is understood an autonomous declaration of authority. I believe this form of spiritual malpractice is rooted in the focus on single biblical authors rather than the community that received, discerned, and complied the text. No one may be suggesting that they are speaking with the same authority as the Biblical authors. Yet, the way we imagine and prioritize the role of the individual over the role of community in regards to the Biblical text has implications on how we act; none greater than the church’s practice and ability to discernment the will of God together.

What happened on the Cross? And Why Does It Matter?

I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s new book The Day The Revolution Began. If you’re unfamiliar with N.T. Wright, he is the former Bishop of Durham and one of the premier New Testament Scholars. His newest book is a 416-page examination of the narrative, cultural, and theological purposes of Jesus’ crucifixion.

I wanted to share my summary of his basic conclusions concerning the Cross and what is traditionally regarded as Atonement Theology. I originally wrote this summary as a way to help me digest the book. However, this summary will benefit any looking for a deeper understanding of Jesus death.

I hope you enjoy…and I encourage you to pick up the book for yourself.

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Humans were made for the vocation of priests of God in creation (i.e. “image bearers’). Humanity rejected this vocation (a.k.a. sin), resulting in humanity giving it’s power to the people and realities we worshiped, both seen and unseen. These new ‘Powers’ enslave us, take us in exile from our original purpose, and ultimately destroy us in death.

The Kingdom of God was established by disarming the Powers on the cross through the ‘forgiveness of sin,’ thus freeing those held captive by these Powers (and reconciling us to God) to become fully functioning, fully image-bearing human beings within God’s world, already now, completely in the age to come.

If the enslaving Powers are to be overthrown, they cannot simply be outmatched force for force. If one force overcomes another, it is still force that wins. Thus, the Kingdom of God is established, overcoming and overthrowing the Powers, by, not the power of force, but the power of self-giving love.

If the enslaving Powers are to overthrown they must be robbed of the source of their power; and if the source of their power comes sin (i.e. human rejection of their vocation as priests through the worship of realities other than God), then when ‘sins are forgiven’, the Powers are robbed of their power. Thus, releasing people from their sin and from the effects of those sins is the means by which Christ is victorious over the Powers.

The ‘forgiveness of sin’ thus required one who could lead humanity out of exile, bringing justice to the covenant faithfulness of God (i.e. the promises of God to Israel, particularly that through Israel God would bless all nations), and cleanse the people from their guilt and shame. Enter Jesus. As the Messiah, Jesus is the representative of Israel, both the King and High Priest. Jesus takes on the full plight of the people’s exile; dying a rebels death for his rebellious people, though he himself was not a rebel; dying a slaves death for his enslaved people, though he himself was not a slave. As a result, Jesus’ self-sacrificial death reveals the covenant faithfulness of God, and provides passage home from exile for his people, via union with his death (and thereby his resurrection). His split blood, as the result of his death, was nothing less than the “blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins,” a sign that something new was coming into being.

The cruciform shape of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, therefore implies a cruciform mission for its citizens

Forgiveness as Justice

Forgiveness and justice seem incongruous. In fact, they are often treated as clashing forces. Justice demands balance and restitution. Forgiveness accepts imbalance and releases debt. Justice delivers fair judgement. Forgiveness extends mercy, grace, and kindness. Yet, when we treat forgiveness as something incongruous with justice, we display a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel and Jesus’ death on the cross.

In the world where the only assumed options to injustice are fight or flight (i.e. acceptance, avoidance, retribution, or retaliation). Jesus offers us a third-way; forgiveness. Forgiveness is a practice that is at the center of God’s mission in putting the world right. Forgiveness is not turning a blind eye to injustice. God forgives, not because he doesn’t care about injustice or sin, but precisely because he does care. God forgives because he refuses to let injustice and sin have the last word in the way the world is moving.  God plan is greater than fairness or balance. God’s plan is redemption, reconciliation, and the uniting of all things in Christ.

Forgiveness breaks the cycle of injustice and sin by denying the right to act upon its power to build walls between people or respond in kind toward the offender. Forgiveness denies the right to right to resentment or revenge and instead returns offense and injustice with blessing, compassion, kindness, and benevolence. Forgiveness is central to how God is working to put the world right.

God’s Justice

God’s justice is not simply a blind dispensing of rewards for the virtuous and punishments for the wicked, though plenty of those are to be found on the way. God’s justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the Creator God who has yet to complete his original plan for creation and whose justice is designed not simply to restore balance to a world out of kilter but to bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that he made in the first place.” NT Wright, Evil and the Justice of God

Warfare World View

“If we grant the intelligibility of [spiritual] war itself, there is simply no further problem in intellectually understanding why any particular atrocities occur. In a state of war, bullets fly, bombs explode, mines are stepped on, and children are maimed. War is hell. This is expected. The only real problem is in confronting the evil and overcoming it. Hence this [warfare] worldview at once frees us from futilely asking questions we cannot answer and empowers us and motivates us to fight battles we can win.” Greg Boyd, God At War

 

We are The Commons

It was a mark of the church for people to hold their lives and their possessions in common. One example of this can be observed in the book of Acts 2:41-47

Yet, we live in a buyer’s market culture where the consumer is supreme, and churches have become a means unto themselves. Since, people can have whatever kind of faith they want, the church tries to make “churched” people, consumers of their brand of church, out of the “un-churched,” rather than making disciples of Christ.

The church does not exist as an end to its own means. We are a community, yet, we do not gather simply to get together. We gather because there is work to be done.

We gather to:

1. Proclaim the Cross

2. Cultivate disciples

3. Embrace the oppressed

Therefore, we wanted to select a name for our community that not only spoke to our mission, our identity in Christ, but also one that had historical significance. There is this tradition within the history of the Church for naming something for all people, a “common” (e.g. Common lectionary, Common book of prayer, Common Bible, Common Text of the Church).

For something to be “common” was not to be ordinary, but to belong to the people. Now, our culture has lost the language and meaning of a “commons.” Something is either, mine, or yours… hardly ever is something ours. Over the past few decades physical space and common resources have become increasingly quantified and commercialized. And though we might not call them commons, parks, beaches and playgrounds, public utilities and public transportation systems, libraries, museums, and schools, these are all commons.

The church is a commons. The church is not a private good to be packaged and sold. The church is collective, a band of natural enemies not held together not by common race, education, income, or politics. The church is a band of natural enemies saved by Jesus, owing Jesus a common allegiance. The church is the Body of Christ, its work is to witness to the Cross, and its worship is the work of the people.

We are The Commons

The Commons for all.