Responding to Violence - Matthew 5

In light of today being Maundy Thursday, we would do well to pause in reflection of how Jesus spoke about violence, as well as how he responded to it in action.

In Matthew 5:39 Jesus tells us that:
1. violence does not end violence;
2. his followers are not to engage in violence, but in a manner that calls those who practice violence to assume responsibility for it;
3. there are better ways to address violence and aggression;
4. he continues to speak of loving one's enemies and doing good towards them;
5. answering violence with violence escalates conflict and allows the perpetrator to continue aggression with new justification;
6. Jesus recognized a principle of Family Systems Theory, that aggression comes from the reptilian brain, and to overcome it we have to shift the interaction to engage the mammalian portion of the brain: we must change the tone of the encounter;
7. in context, Jesus speaks of loving our enemies instead of seeking retribution or revenge;
8. in that same context, we are told to respond to force by addressing positively the needs of the aggressor.

It is in so doing that we change the conversation, the tone, and bring new options to the table. (Context: Matthew 5:38-48)

Tonight, we memorialize Jesus' last meal with the disciples, his betrayal, his arrest, and midnight trial on trumped-up charges. Not only did Jesus eschew violence in his response to his attackers, he also told the disciples not to take up weapons against them. He told them, "Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

In so doing, Jesus not only told them not to attempt to use violence to keep his arrest from happening, he also warned them not to do so for themselves.

Jesus answered the mob against him (Mt 26:55-56) with words designed to protect his followers. He used words, not violence. He accepted the violence directed to himself. He responded, but not by use of force. He followed the same patterns established in his words in the Sermon on the Mount.

©Copyright 2018, Christopher B. Harbin


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