By Herb Montgomery.
(Part 1 of 9)
“Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore, this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”—Jesus (Luke 11.49-51)
Jesus’ teachings, although they are spread all over the four gospels, are concentrated in both Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6). If you want a crash course inside the headspace of Jesus and what He was passionately seeking to accomplish, these passages are where to begin.
What we find toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount is what many have labeled, “The Golden Rule.”
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7.12-14)
Jesus’ “golden rule,” his teachings on nonviolent enemy forgiveness and love, is the small gate and narrow path that leads to life. The way of retaliation, an eye for an eye, leads, as Gandhi said, to the whole world being blind, and according to Jesus, ultimately destroyed. The way of retribution and retaliation is the wide gate and broad path that everyone seems to follow, but it leads to death.
Jesus is clear that the way of violence will lead to their destruction if they do not reject it. Jesus’ way of peace, or nonviolence, if the Jewish people would embrace it, would have not only eventually ended in Jerusalem’s liberation, but also resulted in winning their Roman enemies over to embrace the nonviolent Messiah named Jesus and his radical way of living life.
This is what all the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament foretold. It’s what Jesus referred to when he speaks of the Kingdom being a mustard seed that would take over the whole garden.
A Kingdom Rooted In Love
Imagine with me; Jesus was offering a path that would lead to the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of establishing God’s kingdom – but a kingdom rooted in nonviolence and enemy embracing love. This was being offered in a Jewish context, but according to the old promises, it would lead ultimately to the conversion of the nations (see Psalms 2; Daniel 7.13-14; Isaiah 66.18-23, 60.1-22; Ezekiel 37.28, 39.21-29; Zechariah 2.11, 6.15, 8.20-23, 14.1-21). What a hope!
But the catch was that the people of Jesus’ day would have to give up their violent ways of living, their “eye for an eye” way of solving problems, and learn a new way – the way of nonviolence – rooted in enemy love and forgiveness, and taught and modeled by Jesus.
In this first of eight prophecies by Jesus concerning both the hope for and warning against Jerusalem, it seems that Jesus doesn’t offer the option of repentance. This, too, is much like Jonah with Nineveh, or Isaiah with Hezekiah. Similarly, Jesus’ words in Luke 11.49-51 are not irrevocable; repentance is always a possibility.
As we continue through the rest of these eight prophecies, we are going to see Luke open the possibility of a very different outcome for Jerusalem than destruction, if they would repent of the way of violence and turn to the way of nonviolence – the way of peace.
What does this say about God? If God looks anything like Jesus, God too is calling us to a nonviolent path of love and forgiveness.
Jesus reveals a God who loves His enemies. Jesus reveals a God who freely forgives His enemies, of His own initiative. Jesus reveals a God who is endeavoring not to destroy the world, but who is spending all His energy to heal the world. The destruction that lies ahead, just like that which was foretold by Jesus of Jerusalem, is not that which God is threatening to impose. On the contrary, it is a destruction that is the inherent, intrinsic result of the escalating nature of living by the violent way of retaliation, retribution, and an “eye for an eye.”
“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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5.38-39)
What does it mean to live our lives, as Jesus’ followers, in the way of nonviolent enemy love and forgiveness?
Maybe it’s a person at work that is difficult. Maybe it’s a family member whom you can’t stand. Or for those of you in school, maybe it’s a fellow student. What does it mean to relate to them differently than the way of retribution, retaliation, and eye for an eye? What if, like the God we see in Jesus, we would choose to freely forgive, to even love them, to work for their restoration and healing from their dysfunction?
What does it look like to see those who are our enemies as victims of a much larger system evil that they themselves need saved from too? To see them as in need of your compassion, patience, prayers, and possibly active engagement on your part, seeking to restore them to the way of love for which they were made?
Jesus came to save people from the path that ends in destruction. Jesus was a revolutionary, calling us to a way of living life that was radically different. Jesus way of nonviolent enemy love is the way that leads to life. In the specific context in which Jesus was ministering, Jerusalem was on a collision course with annihilation. But it was not too late. They could still follow Jesus and his new way of life and be saved. One path intrinsically led to death, the other intrinsically lead to life everlasting.
I’d submit that the options have not changed. Those two paths are still before each of us today as well. The call being given to us today is, just like back then, to embrace the way of nonviolent enemy love, till the only world that remains is a world where this love reigns.