All the evil that surrounds us in our world, as I believe I mentioned a few weeks ago, has prompted me to re-read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.”  Bonhoeffer was martyred by the Gestapo near the end of World War II (April 9, 1945 in Flossenburg concentration camp)  As Samuel H. Miller, Dean of Harvard Divinity School states on the back cover, “The whole book is a powerful attack on ‘easy Christianity’ and a warning that in a world such as Bonhoeffer could see coming, faith was not easily attained … Bonhoeffer is a teacher and thinker whose truths were tested in a time of trouble and whose life and death certified to the strength and depth of his desire to follow Christ.”

Yesterday some friends and I were discussing two phrases: 1) “There is no such thing as new truth” and 2) the difference between “what are we to do” as Christians today and “what kind of person we are to be.”  Today, under the topic of retaliation, I am primarily focused upon the latter of these phrases.

Way back in 1955, in the TV production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”, Frank Sinatra sang a song with a chorus familiar to many: “Love and marriage, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  This I tell ya, brother.  Ya can’t have one without the other.”  I am not here today to argue the truth of this statement.  Rather, I am using it to illustrate how two facts are inextricably connected (you can’t have one without the other): “What kind of person we are” and “what we are to do”.  Or, put another way, justification (who we are) and sanctification (what we do).  However as connected as these statements are, there is a clear horse (it comes first and is the driving force) that comes before the carriage.  “Who we are” is the driving force that determines “what we are to do’, just as justification (being declared righteous before God because of Christ) always precedes sanctification … even as our lacking’s in the area of sanctification consistently drive us back to our need for the true righteousness that comes only through the free gift of grace in Christ Jesus (confession and absolution).

It is this connection between justification and sanctification that Bonhoeffer addresses in “The Cost of Discipleship.”  I am currently reading part two which provides a closer examination of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.  He writes in Chapter 6, “Picture the scene: Jesus on the mountain, the multitudes, and the disciples.  The people see Jesus with his disciples, who have gathered around him.  Until quite recently these men had ben completely identified with the multitude … then came the call of Jesus, and at once they left all and followed him.  Since then they have belonged to him, body and soul. … That disconcerting and offense fact stares the people in the face.  … When the call of Jesus had selected them from among the people, the disciples had done what for the lost sheep of the house of Israel was the only natural and necessary thing to do – they had followed the voice of the Good Shepherd, because they knew his voice.  Thus their very action in enlisting as disciples proves that they are members of this people; they will live among them, going into their midst, and preaching the call of Jesus and the glory of discipleship.  But what will the end be?  … All the wrath of God’s people against (God) and his Word will fall on the disciples; his rejection will be theirs.  The cross casts its shadow before Christ, the disciples, and the people.”  I would suggest to you today that we, similarly, have been called from the multitude (the world) to be disciples of Jesus … with the knowledge that he lives in/with us as we are sent to live in and witness the Gospel of Jesus to the world.

At this point you may be wondering where in the world am I going with this?  Getting back to the evil we see in this world, the Sermon on the Mount, and the topic of retaliation, I take us to some words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on that day.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5.38-42)  And then I will just offer to you some of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts for you to prayerfully consider (as I am).  All of the following quotes are from Chapter 12.

“This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law.  The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties.  The old Israel had been both – the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force.  But with the Church it is different: it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression.  Otherwise evil will be heaped upon evil.

“The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a 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 no further evil. And is left barren.

“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 Jeus called them to him.  They are called blessed because of their visible participation in his cross.”

Today Jesus continues to speak to the Father on our behalf as he did long ago of those first disciples, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John, 17.14-19) Retaliation?  It is never the proper Christian response because it testifies to the law while denying the Gospel … and it is the Gospel that the world needs to hear from our lips and see in our lives.