A call to nonresistance

Jan 9, 2018 by

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He leaned in close, looked me in the eyes and whispered, “When we’re out of here, out on the streets, I’ll get you.” I hardly knew how things had escalated so quickly. Bobby had been outside the homeless shelter after the chapel service from 8:30-8:50 p.m., the time designated for smoking before the outside door is locked for the night. Time was up, but after I had given the call for “two minutes left” and “time’s up,” Bobby was still outside. This time I went over to him and said,

“Hey man, it’s time to come in. You have to come in at 8:50.”

“No, I’m going to finish this cigarette.”

“Well, listen, the rule here is that you have from 8:30-8:50 to smoke and then everyone has to come inside for the night. I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s the same rule for everybody.”

“I don’t care, I’m going to finish this.”

After he had finished, Bobby came inside, and he wanted to finish something else. He didn’t like being told what to do.

“So these rules — Are these your rules; did you make them? Do you get paid for this, or are you just a volunteer? I don’t listen to volunteers. So why are you doing this? Are you just trying to make up for something bad you’ve done? You just trying to make yourself feel better for some $#!+ in your past? Are you a Christian? Are you a Christian?!”

Then he leaned in close, looked me in the eyes and whispered, “When we’re out of here, out on the streets, I’ll get you.” He was close enough for me to smell the alcohol on his breath, and to see the hate pulsing in his eyes. Bobby didn’t want anyone else to hear him say this, to make the secret of his threat more threatening.

It worked.

My vision narrowed and I felt the anger welling up inside of me as I looked back at him. In a desperate move to avoid what my mind and body wished to do, in weak submission to the Spirit of Jesus, I replied, “I’m not going to argue with you, Bobby,” and sat down. It was a pitiful reaction by all accounts.

Another shelter guest, Oscar, came up to me and said, “Man, you are really good at staying calm. You just kept your cool the whole time.” Maybe outwardly, but I knew that inside I was still lacking the love of Jesus. But maybe this was the perfect situation for revealing to me what still needs to die. It took me until I got home a couple hours later to begin praying for this man who wished me harm.

I grew up in a home with Christian parents, but as Corrie ten Boom used to say, “Just because a mouse is in a biscuit tin doesn’t make it a biscuit.” Sometimes young Christians accept certain truths without fully realizing the gravity of those truths. It isn’t until a view is challenged by a fork in the road that clarity is reached. For me, this fork was over my views of nonresistance. As an adolescent I had the dream of going to West Point Military Academy. But later I began to struggle with the contradictions: How could I reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the right to bear arms? How could I love my neighbor and then kill him in war? I remember the looks on my parents’ faces when at the age of 18 I told them that if I was ever drafted, I would be a conscientious objector. And while I didn’t understand at the time the full implications of this new way of thinking, I chose right then and there to side with the teachings of Jesus, wherever that would lead me.

Here in America, it seems like there is no shortage of people willing to stand up and fight for their property, their beliefs and themselves — many of them professing Christians. And in response to the November church shooting in Texas, many churches have prepared to meet violence with violence.

As an alternative to this view, I would offer a radical possibility: taking the words of Jesus literally, and the testimony of his life introspectively. Jesus told his followers not to resist an evil person (Matt. 5:39) or to fight with the sword to prevent his arrest because his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus provides the testimony of nonresistance by submitting to insult, torture and even crucifixion. So if our deepest desire is to be like Jesus, then he is calling us to follow his example of illogical love in all areas of our lives, be it insult, injury, theft, even the risk of life itself. His is a call to recognize that our true enemy is Satan, not people, and that the weapons that we use in our conflict are spiritual, not physical (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Easier said than done. But the call is clear:

“By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

And while the rest of the American church or the entire world may be willing to fight and take up arms, Jesus calls us as agents of his peace to lay down our lives for others, including our enemies, whether it is the threatening guest at the homeless shelter, the backstabbing brother, the active shooter or the Roman soldier holding the nails and hammer at the foot of the cross.

Ryan McKelvey lies in Salisbury, Md., and attends a Biblical Mennonite Alliance congregation. He blogs at They Were Strangers, where this post first appeared.

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