Rabbi Jesus is teaching, out of doors on a hillside in Galilee. He is teaching his disciples, but thousands of people are gathered round to listen in. They are peasants, non-citizens in an occupied empire. They are the poor, the dispossessed.
But they are not alone. Also there, at the edges of the crowd: soldiers. Rome’s soldiers. Given the mass of humanity that has gathered ... and given the notoriety of the rabble rousing-Rabbi ... the soldiers are on edge, on alert. Some are mounted on steeds. Others patrol the crowds with their hands on their sword-hilts.
The soldiers are listening for any hint of insurrection, of rebellion and uprising. This is what they hear: “Love your enemy. And pray for those who persecute you.”
Pointing at Rome’s soldiers, Rabbi Jesus continues: “You see those soldiers ... soldiers who can hurt you with impunity, throw you in prison with impunity ... who can impress you into service at will ... some of whom have gang-raped your wives and your daughters ... if a soldier approaches you with aggression, I don’t want you to either flee or fight. You see, your aggressor is hard-wired with base animal instincts. If you run, he will run after you; he will pursue you relentlessly, efficiently, with a vengeance. If, on the other hand, you choose to fight: he will damage you ... hurt you, perhaps kill you.”
“Either way,” says Rabbi Jesus, “the cycle is perpetuated ... either way—fight or flight—they have the power and you do not; they win, and you lose. ...and, what’s more, the cycle of violence goes round and round and round.”
“There is a third way,” says the Rabbi. “Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.”
Desmond Tutu is an A+ student of Rabbi Jesus. Tutu has mastered Jesus’ third way.
It is 1989, Cape Town, South Africa ... during South Africa’s dark days ... Nelson Mandela is still in prison. A people’s political rally has been cancelled by the government. Archbishop Tutu says: “Okay, then let’s have church instead.”
And church he has. People pour into St. George’s Cathedral to “have church”. Police in riot gear gather by the hundreds. They surround the Cathedral while other police spill into the sanctuary and surround the pews. They are there to intimidate, to threaten.
As the Archbishop preaches, the police record every word. Listening for the slightest hint of insurrection ... of rebellion and uprising, this is what they hear: Tutu says: “This system of apartheid is evil. Because it is evil, it cannot last.”
Then he points his finger at the police standing along the walls of his sanctuary. The tension is palpable. Everyone stiffens: police and people, black and white.
Tutu says to the police, “You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked.”
With that, Tutu flashes his bright Desmond Tutu smile, he steps out of the pulpit and down the stairs, his arms are wide and welcoming: “So, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
The church erupts. They are singing and dancing in the aisles. They throw their heads back and laugh and dance. They dance out into the streets.
The police part for them ... clear a path ... make a way. The police have come to fight violence with violence, hate with hate ... but what are they to do about dancing? They can arrest insurrection. They can try treason. But against laughter and dancing and church? Against these they are powerless.
Tutu learned this middle way from Jesus. Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.
The religion of Jesus was born in an undernourished people. The religion of Jesus was born in people who were thirsting for mercy ... starving for justice ... suffering the malnutrition of despair.
To these the religion of Jesus was a banquet-table of hope. Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice. A third way.
Jesus’ third way is not individualistic, but collective. It is not intended for the lone woman being beaten by the violent man. Rather, it is designed to engage organizations, communities, social classes, racial groups ... churches.
Jesus’ third way presents a practical, canny and achievable nonviolence that can be performed by ordinary people. Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.
On Sunday, March 7, 1965, civil rights marchers cross a bridge in Selma, Alabama. Their march forces the authorities to decide between two courses.
Course A: allow the people to march, thus recognizing the legitimacy of their protest.
Choice B: Forcibly stop the march, thus exposing their own violence to the media and cameras.
Hard-wired with animal instincts, state and local lawmen choose the way of violence. They attack the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. Many marchers are injured that day. (It has gone down in history as Bloody Sunday.)
But the choice of violence proved to be catastrophic for white supremacy. It proved to be a major victory for the marchers.
Jesus’ middle way. Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.
The nonviolence Rabbi Jesus teaches in his Sermon on the Mount, should never be confused with a means of avoiding conflict. In fact, it is designed to elicit and exacerbate conflict ... to expose it. To lance the wound of injustice and release the poison.
Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.
Another Tutu story. This one from Johannesburg. One day Bishop Tutu is walking past a construction site. He is about to enter a temporary sidewalk, the width of a single person when a white man appears at the far end. The white man recognizes the Bishop and shouts: “I don’t give way to gorillas.” At which point, the good bishop steps aside, makes a deep sweeping gesture, and says, “Ah yes, but I do.”
Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice.
Old South’s Vision for the 21st Century invites us to participate in the religion of Jesus ... to stand with and for... those thirsting for mercy, starving for justice ... malnourished by despair. It calls us to help set the banquet table.
If you don’t know how or where to start, I have a suggestion. Join us here on Tuesday evening at 6 pm, for a Public Forum on Solitary Confinement.
Defiance without violence. Resistance without malice. That we might be children of God, disciples of Jesus. Students of mercy. Scholars of justice.
The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Loeb
Liberating Faith: Religious Voices for Justice, Peace, and Ecological Wisdom, by Roger S. Gottlieb
Essays on Non-Violence edited by Therese de Coninck (Fellowship of Reconciliation)
Engaging the Powers: Discernment and resistance in a world of domination, by Walter. Wink. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992. (Chapter 9: Jesus' Third Way: Nonviolent Engagement, pgs. 189-192)
Violence and Non-violence in South Africa: Jesus' Third Way, by Walter Wink. Santa Cruz, CA: New Society Publishers, 1987, pages 24-31 and 52-57.)