Stephen Cady requested Jesus’ final two responses when interacting with an evil man (Matthew 5). We discussed the nature of “resist” – the word in Greek has military connotations – and how to respond when somebody strikes you with the intent of shaming and humiliating you and what it would mean to the first century listener. Here are Wink’s explanations of Jesus’ other two responses. (I apologize for this being a really long post)
Jesus’ second response is when somebody sues you for your coat to give him your shirt as well. First of all, we must first say that it was legal to sue somebody for their coat. If somebody had no other possessions and all they had left in their possession was the clothes on their back, Deuteronomy gives the right to sue for the clothing, which has to be humiliating and shaming. (We should note that the coat must be returned at the end of the day, making this a law against excessive debt collecting)
In Jesus day a person normally wore two articles of clothing. This means that when Jesus tells the person to not only hand over the required shirt but also the coat, it would mean the person would be standing stark naked! We live in a time of the Naked Cowboy playing guitar in Times Square – which is a time completely foreign to the ancient Jewish mindset. Nakedness was something to be ashamed of. (Also note the fact that the Romans crucified people naked, as a way of further humiliating a person slowly dying a very public death.)
If we take a quick look at the story of Noah you will learn that in the Jewish psyche that nakedness did not mean shame for the naked person, but the person who observes the naked person. This means that as the man hands over his two articles of clothing, it is the one demanding the first article of clothing that is not shamed. Jesus is giving this person literally being sued out of his clothes a way to turn the tables on his oppressor. An absolutely brilliant move!
Wink notes a few things.
First – power depends on dignity. He says that when the debtor takes off his clothing he refuses to be humiliated by this situation. He also gives a great quote from the Talmud: “If someone calls you an ass, put a saddle on your back."
Second – The creditor is revealed not as an honest businessman, but is revealed as part of an evil system guilty of stripping away an entire social class of all their land. Who would take everything, from a person, even the clothes from their back?!?
The third response given by Jesus is to walk a second mile when somebody asks you to walk one. This comes from the practice the Romans had for limiting the amount of forced labor levied on subjected people by their soldiers. A soldier could only force a person to carry their pack (65-85lbs) for one mile. While a move to restrain cruelty, it also continued to have the bitter reminder that the person was still subjugated.
What happens when the one forced to carry the back continues to walk on into the second mile? Now the soldier has to worry, because he is now breaking the rules! What can he do? How do you force somebody to stop doing something nice for you? But what if it gets out that his pack was carried for two miles? Could he get in trouble? What are the consequences he would have to face?
By walking the 2nd mile the pack guy is throwing the situation around. He is not rebelling, but he is taking the power back from the soldier. Wink notes that a soldier would have no idea how to handle this situation. That the situation would most likely deteriorate into the soldier following this peasant around begging him to stop carrying his pack around.
A point that would have been hilarious to Jesus subjugated listeners.
All three of these situations turn the tables on the power brokers of the situation, as the balance of power is thrown off. No longer is the person on the bottom in a position of helplessness, but nobody was hurt, harmed, or attacked. Instead all parties are given a chance to take a second look at the situation, and realize just what is going on. No longer is the creditor able to sue a person for his cloak without thinking about. Now the soldier must think about the possibility of another pack guy going the second mile. The person trying to keep a slave in line will no longer look to slap his slave again without remembering when the slave turned the other cheek…
Wink ends this chapter with a very strong point. These nonviolent solutions give three possibilities of how we can follow Jesus thesis statement: Don’t react violently to an evil man. But like I said in my previous post, these are suggestions and are models to follow, not rules to inscribe into stone!