1)You have heard it said “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you, do not resist… love your enemies” (matthew 5:38-44)
2) “Vengeance is mine says the Lord” (Romans 12:19) “Those who live by the sword shall die by it” (Matthew 26:52)
For me and many others who have grown up in the church, these words have been repeated in many contexts- recontextualized for my audience, they tended to look something like “ok, we’re not about to go stabbing people, but you will be insulted by people, and you should resist the impulse to insult them back- don’t yell back at that guy in traffic, just let it go.” Loving those who persecute you looked like not getting miffed by people who teased your conservative values.
But at chapel in the lunchroom in AJCES at the beginning of the year, these passages were recontextualized into a different context. The story was told: “you take a blow you give it right back at ‘em, right?” Judas said “sup Jesus” and double crossed his man, but Jesus’ homies fought back- Peter whipped out his sword and went at this guy.”– the dramatic retelling was accompanied by reactionary Oooaaa’s from the audience.
While my context had carried the non-retaliative messages of these passages to my non-violent context, the literal message of non-violence is still very much applicable as well fir the kids at AJCES. Verbal fights or small skirmishes can all too quickly escalate, and are always defended with likes like “My momma said if someone hits me I gotta hit them back” and “It’s my right to stand up for myself.” Talking about fighting seems to be the primary way to build a cool/tough reputation. “I’m gonna fight her on the corner after school” “I fought her in 3rd grade in the bathroom” “He punched the new kid on Friday, he’s probably still punching walls at home” “these old ladies were fighting in the park, it was so funny” “I gotta throw some punches, not my fault, she did ___” Fighting turns into this inevitable thing, and retaliation is a necessity to being wronged.
The kids are living in the eye for an eye context Jesus was speaking into- when asked what that meant, everyone raised their hand and about 20 different explanations followed for what that meant. They get it. And the message of not retaliating often seems like a weak or even dangerous one. I repeat that their reaction is under their control- even if someone insults you, you are responsible for hitting them, and yes you will face consequences at school for that. But I do also want them to stand up for themselves, to expect and demand respect. I try to restructure conversations to say “yes, they were wrong, and yes, you shouldn’t let people talk to you like that- tell an adult when that happens, let us handle it.” Somewhat like “vengeance is the teachers, not yours.” “Vengeance is the Lord’s” can seem like too distant of a message here- the injustices, ranging from small to great in their lives, are quite real, and they desire justice from the littlest of slights to people making racist slurs to their parents.
Promoting healthy responses to persecution, and recognizing the person wronging you has their own perspective and story is so very relevant in the daily lives of these kids. It is not a watered down message here- it can’t be. Not retaliating with violence is particularly poignant here, and challenging as well.