On Fridays we reflect on the Passion and Death of Jesus. This event is the supreme evidence that Our Lord really did mean his teaching on love of enemies. The following is a recent reflection from Fr Emmanuel McCarthy – my mentor in Christian Nonviolence – who is still on his 40 day fast for this cause.
The Kingdom of God in Matthew offers a vision of a community of discipleship characterized by a “higher righteousness”—a community free of anger, lust, falsehood, and violence. The transcendence of violence through loving the enemy is the most salient feature of this new model polis.
When we read Matthew as a whole, we see that what Jesus has commanded includes preeminently the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. This conclusion to the Matthew’s Gospel makes it abundantly clear that Matthew does not regard the discipleship of the Sermon on the Mount as an impossible ideal or merely an eschatological vision. It is, rather, the way of life directly commanded by Jesus, who possesses “all authority in the heaven and on the earth.” The only question is whether the disciples will heed what they have been taught. Jesus practiced it to his own death, and the Gospel of Matthew presents this teaching as a commandment that is to be obeyed by Jesus’ disciples. Matthew envisions the Church’s mission as one of discipling all people to obey Jesus’ commandment of nonviolent enemy-love.
There is no basis in Matthew’s Gospel for restricting the prohibition of violence merely to a prohibition of self-defense. Jesus’ own conduct in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a deliberate renunciation of violence as an instrument of God’s will. Armed defense is not the way of Jesus. There is no foundation whatever in the Gospel of Matthew for the notion that violence in defense of a third party is justifiable.
The suggestion that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount with its nonviolent enemy-love is merely an evangelical counsel intended only for a special class of supersanctified Christians is discredited by the Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) at the conclusion of the Gospel. All baptized believers are to be taught to observe all that Jesus commanded.
-Richard B. Hays
Professor of New Testament at Duke University Divinity School
The Moral Vision of the New Testament