As some of you may have seen, there is a meme floating around the internet at the moment that, in the wake of recent debates about Indiana's RFRA bill, is encouraging Christians to think about baking wedding cakes for gay marriages, a bit differently. This blog post, written by a certain Mrs. Kantrowitz, who has some seminary and ministry background, appeals to Matthew 5:41 to make its point. Yet, there are a few questions I have concerning this post and its conclusions. Here, then, I'd like to speak about those.)
To begin, I think it is important to consider the broader literary context so that we can more accurately acknowledge that and how Mt 5:41 is actually situated within the immediate context of Mt 5:38-42 (NB: Kantrowitz does refer to some of these verses). In fact, 5:38-42 is but part of the 5:38-48, which is part of 5:1-7:29. In the interest of the discussion, I've provided here the Greek (the original language of the New Testament) of the immediate context (i.e. 5:38-42) and a good English translation:
5:38 - Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, Ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος. 5:39 - ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ: ἀλλ' ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα [σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην: 5:40 - καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν, ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον: 5:41 - καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετ' αὐτοῦ δύο. 5:41 - τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς.
5:38 - "You have heard it said, 'Eye in exchange for an eye' and 'tooth in exchange for a tooth.' 5:39 - But I myself say to you, 'Never exchange stances with the evil person; but, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other one. 5:40 - And to the one wanting to make judgments against you and to take your inner garment, relinquish to him also your outer garment. 5:41 - And whoever may force you to go one mile, go with him two. 5:41 - To the one asking you, give, and the one wanting to borrow money from you, do not turn away.'"
The next thing to be noted is that within the even broader scope of Matthew's account, these comments come within the famed "Sermon on the Mount." The sermon or speech that Jesus is giving is a major section within the Matthean narrative. Throughout this speech Jesus alludes to, riffs on, and offers explanations of certain Old Testament (OT) passages. In the space of Mt 5:38-41, Jesus riffs on at least two OT passages: Lam 3:30 and Lev 19:18. While we could likely cite more references here (indeed, the Lex talionis is in view!), these two are at the forefront of the discussion. Lam 3:30 says, "Let he himself give a cheek to the one striking, let him be filled with reproach..." and Lev 19:18 says, "And do let your hand persecute, and do not inflict wrath upon the sons of the people, and love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." These citations are not accidental and because they are the basis of Jesus' comments, they should be the guideposts in our attempts to understand what's said and meant.
I bring this up, however, not only to help us understand Jesus' remarks but also to push back against the context suggested by Kantrowitz. She begins her post by positing a Roman context. To be fair, I'd like to cite the first half of her post here:
In Jesus’ time, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule. The Israelites were allowed to live there and practice their faith for the most part, but they had to pay taxes to Caesar and obey the Roman laws. To the Israelites, the Romans were evil and ungodly. They had no place ruling over God’s chosen people in God’s chosen nation. That land had been promised to Moses and his descendants when God brought them out of Egypt. Their very presence in the land was blasphemous. One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the sermon on the mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41
Kantrowitz is correct, in Jesus' time, Rome was in power and taxes were owed. However, the comment about obedience to Roman is not completely accurate for some religio-legal exceptions were granted to Jewish folks (e.g. See the Edict of Claudius mentioned in Petronius, Letter to Dora 19.304). Further, it is also not entirely accurate to suggest that all Jews/Israelites viewed the Romans as "evil and ungodly." A number of examples could be provided to show positive relationships and attempts at strategic relationships between Jews and Romans. (For more on this see HERE, for example.) Yes, of course, tensions did exist; animus was at work in various ways at various times. But what I'm really driving at here is that the main backdrop of Mt 5:38-41, or the whole Sermon on the Mount for that matter, is not propaganda against the Roman military, although the Roman soldier "may" be in view in 5:41, or powers-that-be. As I alluded to above, Jesus' main point of reference is the OT.
When Jesus references Lamentations it is on purpose; the overall context of Lam 3 is appropos. In Lam 3 we find the poet, at least for the first half of the lament (1-25), reflecting on the pain that has befallen him (as a microcosm of the nation) due to rejection of God. Yet, at 26, things turn. The poet realizes the error of his ways and from there on realizes the need to turn back to God; he values the deep and abiding patience of God. He recalls a previous time when he turned and then returned, whereafter he experienced God's graciousness. Even more, God worked in his favor and this is what he wants again; he prays that God would show up and overturn his enemies. Using court language and imagery, he prays that God would rule against the injustices inflicted by his enemies and in his favor.
I think this is important to consider because in the context of Mt 5:38-42, the context is also one of injustice. We see an unjust slap, an unjust robbing of clothing (which, by the way, would have left the person naked and thus, shamed), and an unjust force of walking a mile likely carrying heavy equipment. There may also be the unjust borrowing, that is taking-without-repaying, of money. The recurring theme, as we can see, is injustice. Jesus calls his disciples to endure the injustice inflicted upon them. Yet, this is not merely any injustice; rather, it is injustice endured for the sake of the Gospel.
And when I bear this in mind, this is precisely where I have another issue with Kantrowitz's commentary. She says:
Go with them two miles. That was not the advice that most of the people in the crowd that day had been hoping for. That was not the conclusion that they would have come to on their own, following this man that they hoped would lead them to victory over the Romans. That was certainly not respecting their religious beliefs — go with them two! What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that.
Do you see what just happened here? Do you see the homiletic switch embedded in these comments that twists the meaning of the passage? Let me point it out; it is right when she says: "...go with them two! What if their neighbors saw!" You see, if and when some Jewish person were forced to carry a Roman soldier's luggage, the thought on their minds wasn't, "I hope a neighbor doesn't see me...I'll be so embarrassed." That wasn't the hangup! What we have, rather, are accounts of some Jews being told by soldiers to carry their luggage on the Sabbath, which, of course, was a violation of their religious beliefs and practices (see the later Tos. Hag. 2). Of course, Jesus came from a Jewish line as did most, if not all, of The Twelve. Yet, the reason Jesus can say "go ahead and walk two miles on the Sabbath" to his disciples is because they are no longer bound to the Jewish Sabbath days. Thus, this is not a violation of Sabbath, even though it may be a personal injustice against them. In the midst of this personal injustice, they are not to retaliate with force. What they can do, as they walk, however, is continue sharing their faith. In fact, two miles may be advantageous because it gives them more time and opportunity to share. The one walking and sharing should have confidence that, like the lamenter, God can work in his (and their) favor.
This also means that Kantrowitz's comment "What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay?" is rather moot. If a Jew were observing another Jew, they surely wanted have viewed the injustice against their fellow Jew okay. Further, they wouldn't have thought the Jewish person wanted to break the Sabbath to make a point that Romans are good. This is simply a homiletic sleight of hand that completely ignores the context.
The same is true of her next comment: "What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that." As for other work needing to be done, Jews would not have done it on the Sabbath. And it is certainly a big rhetorical leap to try to pit charity work against carrying Roman luggage! If one were "forced" to do it, they had no "choice" in the matter, essentially. Charity work is a choice. The rhetoric here is setting up a false dichotomy. The point Kantrowitz is attempting to make is: Christians need to get busy doing charity work instead of talking about homosexuality because "But Jesus is not worried about any of that." Yet, this, too, is a sleight of hand and rhetorical exaggeration. Jesus is obviously concerned about something, otherwise he wouldn't be talking! And to suggest that because Jesus may be recorded as talking about one thing more than the other does not mean he had (and still has) no concern about the lesser thing spoken of; indeed, all it means is that we have contexts where one issue was talked about less than an other. Further, it is not logical at all to suggest that because there are big issues in the world that need dealt with, all the seemingly smaller ones should be shrugged off! I mean, try paying only your big bills while neglecting your smaller ones and see how that goes for you! The creditors won't like it! No, we must maintain that dealing with both seemingly large issues and small issues is needed. Additionally, what may appear to be a "small" or "minor" issue to one person, may, in fact, be a larger issue to others. You can't simply presume that because something seems more minor to you that it is to others, or that one should "not be worried about any of that." By the way, Jesus did talk about homosexuality. Among other places, see HERE.
But back to the text now. Above I noted that Lev 19:18 was also in the background of Jesus' comments. Actually, much of Leviticus is in mind in Mt 5-7. Yet, the point of this particular referent is, as noted above, not to resort to revenge. Jesus' disciples, when met with injustice, are not to retaliate with force. In fact, the choice not to react with revenge is itself a means of peaceful non-violent retaliation. Showing the grace of the Gospel while under injustice is a means of non-violent retaliation. Sharing the Gospel to one's persecutors is a means of non-violent retaliation. So, Jesus isn't telling his followers that retaliation is forbidden; in fact, retaliation against injustice is very Christian if one does it non-violently and out of a place of perfect heart disposition (this perfect heart disposition towards God and others is what is alluded to, by the way, in Mt 5:48). Jesus himself retaliated against injustice with this type of action, as did Paul. Their retaliation wasn't to simply submit and shut up, no, it was to react by sharing the Good News in the face of persecution!
And, personally, that's where I think the argument by Kantrowitz suffers the most...it totally misses this point! In homiletical fashion, she says:
Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”If you believe gay marriage is immoral (I don’t, myself) and a gay couple comes into your shop and asks you to bake a cake for their wedding, what should you do? If God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the wedding days of straight and gay couples, then what is our responsibility? If it is against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but you believe strongly that their lifestyle is immoral, what should you do?
Well, the cards are on the table now as the homosexualist hermeneutic is exposed: "If you believe gay marriage is immoral (I don’t, myself)..." After this litany of rhetorical questions expecting the answer "I should submit to the gay couple's demands," she forces the hand of the reader by saying that you are a) breaking the law, and b) discriminating, if you don't violate your conscience and do what they want you to. I don't expect most to see the rhetorical moves being made here as they're rather faint and it takes some careful looking...something many are won't to do. Just realize that now you're being discriminated against if you don't agree with the point being made, that is, you're being labeled a law breaker and a bigot (discriminator). Nevermind the fact that you're being discriminated against in this post, and nevermind the fact that the homosexualists are discriminating against you, nevermind any of that because, after all, as one of Jesus' own, he probably wouldn't worry about such things, right?
You see, there's a difference in holding firm while being discriminated against for the sake of the Gospel and, in the midst of that discrimination, throwing off one's beliefs and caving in to the pressure. There's a huge difference, in fact!.If a Christian business owner is discriminated against for refusing to bake a cake for gay weddings, it is one thing if that Christian holds firm to their convictions and shares the Gospel truth in the process. Yet, it is another thing if, in the midst of that discrimination they violate their conscience and cave in. Thus, it is also very problematic when she says this:
Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”If you are wondering if it is worth being sued and losing your business to stand up for what you believe is right, if you miss the look of hurt in the couple’s eyes when you refuse them and only see an angry, media-driven, ACLU-led mob attacking the small business owner who is only standing up for what you believe in, what should you do?
So, as a Christian, is Jesus calling you to willingly lose your whole livelihood to help out the homosexualists agenda? That's what's implied here! Do you want to live in fear of being sued? No? Then support the agenda! Do you want to hurt that gay couple's feelings, even if only for a moment, knowing that if you do they'll turn around and tear you down for a lifetime? No? Of course, Jesus wasn't worried about such things? Right?!? Well, she's not done:
Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”Jesus said, not only should you follow the law of the land — the law which in America for the most part prohibits discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation — not only should you do the minimum you have to do, you should go the extra mile. (Yes, that’s where that expression comes from!) Do *twice* what the law requires.
Oh my! The argument has gone off the rails here, I think! Do you see the issue? The "Law" Jesus supposedly talked about is now being equated with "the law of the land," that is, the law in America, a law which now prohibits discrimination against gay people! Do I even really need to make the point that this is incredibly anachronistic? Really, do I? Do I need to make the point that to equate ancient Jewish Law with modern American Law is terribly problematic? And do I really need to make the point that again, I thought she said Jesus wasn't concerned about such things?!? No friends, rest assured, Jewish Law is not equivalent to American Law and in Christian theology and practice, the mentality has always been that if the state issues forth a law that violates your conscience or belief, you don't adhere to it! And do I need to point out, once more, that while not discriminating against gay people is the talk of the day, the folks who often speak most about this completely miss the fact that or are okay with Christians (and folks of other religious persuasions) are being discriminated against?
So, in a complete turn of events, in a complete twisting and reorienting of this passage, she concludes:
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two. Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes — for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reason for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
SMH. Now, now we have moved to the full-on celebration of the homosexualist agenda. We, of all people, should be celebrating this thing that many of us see as deeply incompatible with historic, orthodox Christianity, the most. We are celebrating "our wild, all-inclusive love..." that folks will want to hear about. The problem with this is that Christianity is not simply inclusive and never has been. Christianity has always been at one and the same time inclusive and exclusive. And the mindset has always been: "You can come as you are, but you can't stay that way." No, we don't stamp sin good and celebrate it; instead, we look at it in the face and retaliate non-violently against the injustice it brings; we do that by preaching the Gospel. Celebrating sin is not a good deed that glorifies our Father in heaven; rather, it makes a mockery of the very thing he sent his Son to do. But she continues:
Christians, when we dig our heels in and insist on our right to discriminate, we are hurting people — we are hurting so many people, so deeply. Behind the ACLU and the liberal media are real people, who have been hurt again and again in the name of Christ. Christians, you and I have hurt them. I know most of us have really good intentions, but we are making Jesus the last thing they want to hear about. If we “snatch one person from the fire” by refusing to condone behavior we believe is immoral, but send hundreds and thousands of others fleeing churches and Christianity entirely, what have we really accomplished? Someone else will make that cake and fewer and fewer people will look to Christianity for love and hope. We will have won a battle that we were never called to fight in the first place, but lost the war.
Once again, nevermind the fact that Christians are being hurt and discriminated against. Nevermind the fact that others are digging their heels in to make this discrimination against Christians possible. Nevermind that these are real people, real Christians who have lost their livelihoods. Nevermind any of that!!! Forget it all...Jesus isn't worried about that. Nope, he's not worried about his own! Oh how sad this trope is! And how sad it is that the NT has been so twisted that condoning sin is now being promoted...in the name of being relevant. You see, the drive for cultural relevance is often what fuels the full-on march towards heresy. It's always been that way! But, just to assure you that she views herself as standing in the ranks of orthodox Christianity, Kantrowitz leaves these as her parting words: "Happy Easter, friends! The tomb is empty! Christ is risen!" Yes, she is certainly right about this claim; yet, one is left wondering if that's really all that relevant culturally, because, after all, if Christ is indeed risen and we go on sinning, and promoting/condoning sin, then that resurrection really isn't that relevant...even in clever and catchy memes and blog post titles.