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Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’

The following text is from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, translated by R. H. Fuller (2nd ed., 1959), 127–130.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed not further evil, and is left barren.

By willing endurance we cause suffering to pass. Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance. By refusing to pay back the enemy in his own coin, and by preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult. Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence. When a man unjustly demands that I should give him my coat, I offer him my cloak also, and so counter his demand [Matt 5:40]; when he requires me to go the other mile, I go willingly, and show up his exploitation of my service for what it is [Matt 5:41]. To leave everything behind at the call of Christ is to be content with him alone, and to follow only him. By his willingly renouncing self-defense, the Christian affirms his absolute adherence to Jesus, and his freedom from the tyranny of his own ego. The exclusiveness of this adherence is the only power which can overcome evil.

We are concerned not with evil in the abstract, but with the evil person. Jesus bluntly calls the evil person evil [Matt 5:39]. If I am assailed, I am not to condone or justify aggression. Patient endurance of evil does not mean a recognition of its rights. This is sheer sentimentality, and Jesus will have nothing to do with it. The shameful assault, the deed of violence and the act of exploitation are still evil. The disciple must realize this, and bear witness to it as Jesus did, just because this is the only way evil can be met and overcome. The very fact that the evil which assaults him is unjustifiable makes it imperative that he should not resist it, but play it out and overcome it by patiently enduring the evil person. Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil, it spells death to evil.

There is no deed on earth so outrageous as to justify a different attitude. The worse the evil, the readier must the Christian be to suffer; he must let the evil person fall into Jesus’ hands.

The Reformers offered a decisively new interpretation of this passage [Matt 5:38–42], and contributed a new idea of paramount importance. They distinguished between personal sufferings and those incurred by Christians in the performance of duty as bearers of an office ordained by God, maintaining that the precept of non-violence applies to the first but not to the second. In the second case we are not only freed from obligation to eschew violence, but if we want to act in a genuine spirit of love we must do the very opposite, and meet force with force in order to check the assault of evil. It was along these lines that the Reformers justified war and other legal sanctions against evil. But this distinction between person and office is wholly alien to the teaching of Jesus. He says nothing about that. He addresses his disciples as men who have left all to follow him, and the precept of non-violence applies equally to private life and official duty. He is the Lord of all life, and demands undivided allegiance. Furthermore, when it comes to practice this distinction raises insoluble difficulties. Am I ever acting only as a private person or only in an official capacity? Is it right to forget that the follower of Jesus is always utterly alone, always the individual, who in the last resort can only decide and act for himself? Don’t we act most responsibly on behalf of those entrusted to our care if we act in this aloneness?

Jesus vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ’s victory as well as of his sufferings.

The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering. The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil. But it was just this participation in the cross which the disciples were granted when Jesus called them to him. They are called blessed because of their visible participation in his cross.

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From the beginning in 1525 through the present, Mennonites have pursued a dream:

Conrad Grebel

A dream that it is reasonable to follow Jesus Christ daily, radically, totally in life.

A dream that it is practical to obey the Sermon on the Mount, and the whole New Testament, literally, honestly, sacrificially.

A dream that it is thinkable to practice the way of reconciling love in human conflicts and warfare, nondefensively and nonresistantly.

Georg Blaurock

A dream that it is possible to confess Jesus as Lord above all nationalism, racism, or materialism.

A dream that it is feasible to build a communal church of brothers and sisters who are voluntary, disciplined, and mutually committed to each other in Christ.

A dream that life can be lived simply, following the Jesus-way in lifestyle, in possessions, in service.

David Augsburger, “The Mennonite Dream” (Mennonite Board of Missions, 1970).

Note: The Anabaptist movement, out of which Mennonites arose, began in Zürich in 1525 among Swiss Brethren when Conrad Grebel, a former associate of Ulrich Zwingli, baptized Georg Blaurock upon Blaurock’s confession of faith. Anabaptist means “re-baptizer,” a reference to the movement’s practice of believer’s baptism.

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Text: The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3 – 12

Questions: Who are the people? What are the blessings?

Clue: Note the parallel structure.

(Is the chart hard to read? Click on it for a bigger version.)

Hypothesis:

The left column identifies the same person from different points of view.

The right column identifies the same blessing from different points of view.

Hmmm. . . .

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