by Father Mike Stubbs
Both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi chose the path of nonviolence in their fight for justice.
That was their way of responding to Jesus’ words in Sunday’s Gospel reading: “Offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5:38-48).
The path of nonviolence passed through much suffering along the way. Both King and Gandhi were assassinated because of their efforts to win civil rights for their people. Their followers had to endure many hardships in that struggle, and some of them were also killed.
It was not an easy path to take. But it did yield results. In India, it led to independence for that nation. In the United States, it led to an end to legalized racial segregation. At least in those societies, the path of nonviolence led to success. Public opinion was swayed to listen to the cries for justice. As democracies, Great Britain and the United States were able to respond to those cries.
However, it is worthwhile to ask the question: Would the path of nonviolence have proved as successful in a dictatorship? Would Hitler, the Japanese in World War II, or Stalin have been persuaded by the voice of nonviolence? Or would those dictators instead have crushed those speaking out for justice and inflicted tremendous suffering on them, without those sufferings bearing any profit? Would all their pains have been in vain? Is the path of nonviolence always the right one to take? What is the best way to respond to Jesus’ challenge?
After all, neither Martin Luther King nor Mahatma Gandhi followed Jesus’ teachings to the letter. While Jesus said offer no resistance, they did offer resistance to what they judged was evil, even if that resistance was nonviolent. They rejected the course of total passivity. And Jesus himself engaged in resistance to what was wrong. He even went so far as to engage in violence, when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple and drove them out with whips, although he did not go to the point of bloodshed.
The teachings of Jesus definitely challenge us to rethink our attitude toward those who oppose us. At the same time, it does not appear as though Jesus was promulgating new legislation by giving us these teachings. They point us in the right direction, even if they do not give detailed instructions on how to get there.
That is for us to discern, with the help of the Holy Spirit.