CINCINATTI, Ohio (Mennonite Mission Network) – After a brief opening mixer (and John Mellencamp acknowledgement), Eric Frey Martin started his Thursday morning seminar, 'I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins,' with a question.
When was a time that an authority figure failed you?
The answers from attendees spanned from law enforcement to baseball coaches and parental figures. The severity of the failures differed, but each had obviously made an impression on the person who had experienced them.
"We are taught that we should respect authority. And usually that's good advice, right?" Frey Martin asked. "But mistakes are made. Sometimes [authority figures] fail us, and sometimes they mess up. And what do we do when that happens?"
The answer, Frey Martin suggested, could be found in how Jesus approached power, authority and injustice throughout his life.
One example Frey Martin presented was from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matthew 5:38-42). Jesus' commandments to 'turn the other cheek,' 'give the shirt (and coat) off your back,' and 'walk the extra mile' might feel like passive reactions to a modern reader, but to the audience in Jesus' day, they were a blueprint on how to nonviolently resist the unjust authority at the time.
"The Bible is a conversation," explained Frey Martin. "It's a conversation between people who are genuinely seeking God across the centuries from Genesis to Revelation. And so for us to understand what is going on in some of these passages, we need to understand what was going on in that time."
Turning the other cheek when one is slapped meant that your aggressor would have to acknowledge you as an equal in order to continue hitting you. While giving a piece of clothing to a debt collector was considered a form of collateral in Jesus' time, giving them all your clothing would leave you naked in public, and therefor be bringing shame on not only the debt collector, but also everyone within eyesight. Carrying a Roman soldier's pack for a mile if asked was common law for all citizens, but carrying the pack an extra mile was illegal, and would get the soldier in trouble.
These examples, Frey Martin suggested, showcased both Jesus' unique way of subverting the oppressive powers of his day, and how to actively work towards not just an absence of conflict, but of harmony and justice between people. In a word, shalom.
"Jesus is calling us to be faithful to this idea of loving our neighbors and our enemies," said Frey Martin. "And of being faithful to this idea that we can point out injustice, we can work towards shalom without bypassing shalom. In other words, we don't have to use violence in order to get to peace. That it is not just the way to peace, but peace is the way."