We are studying Matthew 5:38-48 for Sunday, July 21 – Jesus’ teaching that deeply informs Christian commitment to the principle of non-retaliation. [Some notes on this text are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to think about before class, or discuss in class:
In v39, Jesus says not to “resist an evildoer.” He gives examples of what he means by “evildoer” in verses 39-42: people who strike out at us [I presume in anger or frustration], who think we owe them, who conscript our services, and who always seem to be looking for a handout.
It might be worth asking ourselves what we think Jesus is saying here, and what Jesus may not be saying – that is, what are examples of things that actually affect us? Which of those would be covered by Jesus’ commandment here? Which, if any, would not be? Why not – what makes those different?
[For instance: I cannot believe it is proper to use this command of Jesus’ to counsel a woman whose husband or boyfriend beats her up to “turn the other cheek” and stay in that relationship – assuming she actually has a way out. But I could see Jesus’ command being something I would bring to mind in some work situations I have been in. So looking at where we are inclined to draw these lines, and why, seems worth exploring.]
What does Jesus seem to mean by “an evildoer”? Is this who we mean by “evildoer”? How is it different? Why is that, do we think?
Do we have any objections to the course of action Jesus outlines in verses 39-42? What objections? Why?
What do our objections tell us about ourselves? About the world we live in (or at least, about how we understand that world and how it works)?
Assuming there is some set of circumstances in which Jesus’ prescribed course of action make total and complete sense – what would those circumstances be, do we think? How well do those conditions describe the world we live in? Why is that?
[More personal] What’s our experience of praying for our enemies? [How regularly do we do that? Which ones? What do we pray for them? How is that working for us? What helps? What gets in the way? What has been happening?]
[Still more personal] What’s our experience of loving and greeting those who don’t love and greet us? [Do we do this? Why or why not? What helps, what makes it harder, how well does it seem to work … ?]
[Still more personal] How seriously do we take the idea that Jesus’ command to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and greet those who don’t greet us is something we need to be doing regularly? Why is that?