FARM MURDERS: Taking revenge – like Jesus did
This article is not an attempt to become another voice in the over-crowded platform of social media. Neither is this article an attempt to explain the legitimacy of the concerns of farmers nor the valid response of those who point to the existence of crimes and murders in other communities as well. These are all well debated and significantly documented. Every farmer that is attacked should be mourned-this is not the discussion. Every woman that is raped, every child that dies of hunger, every person shot in gang-related wars and every injustice, anywhere in the world, should be mourned and should be acknowledged. This is not the discussion. The point of this article is simply to examine Scripture and determine a (not the only, but a) Biblical response to a very emotional issue. Following Christ’s example, together with His uncompromising teachings, will not always be the popular response, or even the easy response. And even though it might be a choice to respond according to the flesh, driven by anger and emotion, for a follower of Christ, it is not an option.
For decades, farmers, particularly white farmers and their lobby groups, have claimed that the police have failed to act on violent attacks in rural areas.
That anger was evident as farming communities protested at the Senekal Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, where two men appeared for the brutal murder of 22-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner. Demonstrators stormed the courthouse where a gunshot was fired (it’s unclear whether by the police or protesters) and a police vehicle was set on fire.
There is no doubt that, from a human and civil perspective, the response is justified. In a statement issued on Tuesday, after the protests in Senekal, which have led to the arrest of at least one demonstrator, Free State TLU SA chairperson Bertus van der Westhuizen said the union does not support vandalism.
“But the behaviour of the supporters reflects the feeling of farmers at ground level. The irreconcilable attitude and remarks of the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, against farmers add to this feeling. We are fed up and will no longer be targets,” he added.
Ernst Roets, head of policy at Afrikaner interest group AfriForum, said, “The fury that the people expressed here today is the consequence of the cruelty of a problem that simply persists, coupled with the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards farm murders.” (Daily Maverick)
Sadly, as seen on Tuesday, anguish has now turned to anger, and calls for “more than prayer” are made, even producing guns next to Bibles and appealing to God to lead his people to respond. There is a sense that justice will only be served once the perpetrators are dealt with legally, and if not legally, privately. The crowd that gathered in front of the Magistrates’ Court in Senekal on Tuesday represented not only the farming community but also the Christian community. People were carrying crosses and had crosses painted on their horses – the symbol of reconciliation and salvation, not revenge.
The question that needs to be explored therefore is not how we should respond as farmers or fellow-South Africans, but how we should respond if we call Christ our Lord – who did not only teach us the way but showed us the way
How do we respond to injustice?
First of all, do not expect a simple, acceptable, or easy answer. Embracing a Christ consciousness in circumstances of such tragic proportions cannot be found in an untransformed human heart. Being saved and born again will reveal our state of grace, but in itself will be insufficient to guide us in a Christ conscious response. This will not be easy and will definitely not the popular response.
When Jesus spoke to the crowd in Matthew 5 His teachings were revolutionary and must have been incredibly offensive to people who cried out to God in every way: “Enough is enough! We seek justice. The guilty need to be punished.”
After all, we serve a God of justice and righteousness, not so?
It might be meaningful to read Matthew 5 again … and again, and again. Jesus preaches to a crowd who gathered on the side of a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a crowd that consisted of Jewish peasants, farmers, theologians and, most of all, nationalist Roman haters. Quite the crowd – and not much different than the crowd that gathered in front of the Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday – the salt of the earth – good people – people who simply want to live lives free from tyranny and fear.
In verse 41 the Lord concludes his sermon with a teaching that must have pierced like a two-edged sword. Out of the blue, He comes with this teaching: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Outrageous! Absurd! What a shocker. But not just a ‘what-an-inspiring-sermon’ shocker but a completely ‘what-the-heck-was-he-thinking’ shocker. If ever there was a ‘butterfly’ sermon to a ‘caterpillar’ crowd, this was it.
Here, Jesus refers to the Roman powers who occupied Israel during this time. Theologically they were seen as gentile, morally they were seen as pagan, nationally they were unwanted, culturally they were foreign, and generally they were despised. Jewish nationalism was at an all-time high and there must have been more than just a murmur in the crowd. Once again, not unsimilar to a portion of a modern-day South African crowd listening to a political speech against the current government.
Jesus here refers to the Roman law that permitted any Roman soldier to stop a Jewish man on the road and force him to drop what he was carrying to assist the Roman soldier in bearing his load. Or, the solider could have simply made the Jew carry his load out of laziness or a power trip. But the law only required the Israelite to walk one mile for the solider. Not two. Only one. Many Jews even marked a mile in all directions from their home and would go not a step further. So, Jesus tells his listeners to go beyond obligation. The second mile is not an obligation, it is an opportunity.
This is a key principle for anyone who desires to be transformed. We need to look beyond obligation and see the opportunity.
Think about your own community, divided by leadership, polarised by politics, segregated by race, separated by culture, alienated by religion, or estranged by language. The easy route is to join everybody else, jump on the bandwagon and spread rumours that will further divide communities through suspicion and fear. ‘Two-mile-people’ will always look for an opportunity to reconcile.
Clayton King, on his blog “Going the Extra Mile”, elaborates as follows on this scripture:
“The point in demanding that the Jews walk two miles was for them to show the Romans that they were different. They did not demand, they offered. They did not compel, they invited. The children of Israel were operating from a different worldview, one of simplicity, goodness, and virtue found in the God of scripture. The Romans operated from a worldview of power, conquest, and greed. Roman hearts could be won, one at a time, by simple acts of radical service that went contrary to the expectation. Freedom was to come not from a Jewish uprising or a revolt, but from the internal liberty of being free to serve your enemy, testifying to the transforming power of God in a person’s soul.
The only way for the good to win over evil was to go beyond expectation. The second mile in our lives makes the ‘Roman’ world ask why we would go the extra distance under such a heavy burden. The second mile opens up conversations that would never happen in the first mile. The second mile makes us better humans and better Christians. It builds the muscle we need to carry the gospel and the endurance we need to remain faithful through the seasons of life and not just for a season of life.”
So, let us go beyond obligation. In our nations, in our forgiveness, in our communication, in our acts of reconciliation. We will only find opportunities when we walk the second mile.
William Barclay says the following:
The simple fact is that the world will never have any use for Christianity unless it can prove that it produces the best men and women. The authentic mark of a Christian is a life lived on the standards of Jesus Christ.
So how do we respond? Do we just sit passively at home and pray that all will end well, witnessing one murder after the other. How do we fight injustice?
Once again Christ taught the way and He showed the way
The Lord concludes His sermon in Matthew 5 with a teaching that must have raised even more murmurs than the “walking an extra mile” teaching did, to say the least.
Most of those present were probably seeking political instructions more than religious teachings, least of all a message of ‘passive’ acceptance and forgiveness. They legitimately felt victimized and marginalized by the Roman Empire and were looking for a leader who would inspire them to fight for freedom and justice. After all, they were an oppressed minority, threatened, and treated as foreigners in their own country (sound familiar?). Jesus fully understood this.
Nothing has changed today. In South Africa, the nation is ruled by ‘nightmare politics’. Sadly, the public divide over racial issues is far from over. Some make it their public duty to create suspicion and fear, either through loudspeakers at protest rallies or through social media from home, and then there are those who simply encourage everybody else to pray and passively accept the status quo, the crime, and the murders. Both activists and pacifists are always a deep source of frustration to one another.
We need to be transformed in our thinking. And that is why the Lord offers a ‘third way’ of response to those who are discontent with being passive spectators but at the same time refuse to be resisting aggressors.
THE ‘THIRD WAY’
In his books “Engaging the Powers” and “The Powers That Be”, Walter Wink argues that Jesus rejected these two common ways of responding to injustice: violent resistance and passive acceptance. Instead, Jesus advocated a third way: retaliating with an assertive but non-violent response.
The key to understanding Wink’s argument is detailed attention to the social customs of the Jewish homeland in the first century and what Jesus’ sayings would have meant in that context. To illustrate, let’s look at the saying about ‘turning the other cheek’. Jesus specifies that the person has been struck on the right cheek, not just the cheek.
How can you be struck on the right cheek? As Wink emphasizes, you have to act this out to get the point: you can be struck on the right cheek only by an open hand blow with the left hand, or with a backhand blow from the right hand (try it). However, in that culture, people did not use the left hand to strike others. It was reserved for “unseemly” uses. Thus, being struck on the right cheek meant that one had been backhanded with the right hand. Given the social customs of the day, a backhand blow was the way a superior hit an inferior, whereas one fought social equals with fists.
This means the teaching of Jesus presupposes a setting in which a superior is beating an inferior, a ‘majority’ is picking on a ‘minority’, or simply the ‘advantaged’ (politically or economically) are looking down on the ‘disadvantaged’. What should the response be? “Turn the other cheek” are the words of Christ. (Don’t stop reading here – this has got nothing to do with passive acceptance.)
What would be the effect? The only way the superior could continue the beating would be by completely repositioning himself and giving a backhand blow with his right hand to the left cheek of the other person. This is basically impossible to do – try it. The other option was to continue with an overhand blow with the fist – which would have meant treating the inferior as an equal. Perhaps the beating would not have been stopped by this. But for the superior, it would at the very least have been disconcerting: he could continue the beating only by treating the inferior as a social peer. As Wink puts it, the inferior person was in effect saying, “I am your equal. I refuse to be humiliated anymore, but I will not resort to your tactics.” That is not all. The sayings about “going the second mile” (see the next chapter) and “giving your cloak willingly to one who sues you for your coat” makes a similar point: they suggest creative non-violent ways of protesting oppression by seeing it as an opportunity.
Christians are not people who passively accept ridicule, persecution, and affliction. They retaliate! But they do not retaliate with the weapons or the attitudes of the world. Followers of Christ need to be taught that it is okay to take revenge, but that they need to use the fruits of the Spirit to do so. If someone hurts us (consider the supreme example set by Christ on the cross), we take revenge by offering forgiveness. If someone threatens our safety and security, we take revenge by praying for them. Two things will happen: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:22)
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
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