When I was a teen-ager, I practiced the martial arts. I invested a goodly chunk of time in them. Put simply, my high-school aged self could kick the butt of my nearing middle-aged self.
There was a guy, a black belt. I don’t remember his name. But I remember his skills. These memories aren’t so much in my brain. They are more visceral than that. I remember them in my body.
This one day he was showing off good naturedly. He knocked me around for a while. He was adept at mantaining control of everything that was going on. Nothing he did was acutely, actively painful. He walked this razor edge, though, of handling me in a way that was just this side of “OUCH!”
It’s practically a stereotype, the idea that martial arts use the attacker’s weight and energy against him. If you’ve never been knocked around like that, though, you’re not truly in touch with what this concept really means.
It’s one thing to hear the idea that if somebody is running at you, you ought to move with them, pulling them off balance. It’s another thing entirely to run at someone, and have them grab on to you with an irrestibility, and then to find yourself on your butt, looking up at them.
There are times that I have looked at the way of Jesus like this. There are times when I have wanted him to be all about using his attacker’s energy against him.
This comparison isn’t even particularly original. I remember reading this irreverent novel in the 80’s or 90’s. In this book, Jesus ends up in Ancient Japan and invents a nonviolent martial art. They call it Jew-do, (Judo), which is (in my brain) a pretty good pun, because in Japanese, the word “do” means way of. (And of course, Jesus was a Jew)
At any rate, I could back this idea up by cherry picking scripture and focusing on specific interpretations of them. For example, the whole “Turn the other cheek” thing has been interpreted as a way of using your oppents anger against them. In ancient cultures, various gross bathroom sorts of things happened with only one hand. It was highly illegal and immoral to make contact with others with this hand. Turning the other cheek was a way to lure them into making this contact.
Similarly, it’s been observed that Roman Law allowed soldiers to conscript conquered people for a certain distance. The belief is that Jesus’ teachings around us walking more than we’re asked was actually a way to manipulate the centurions into breaking their own laws.
I’m not saying that I think these interpretations are wrong. I’m saying that an unhealthy focus on these and similiar examples lead me to viewing some things in the wrong way.
A variety of people have written about Jesus’ third way. The first way is a way of the world. It is to be a victor in the games we play. It is to dominate others. The second way is also a way of the word. It is to be a loser in the games we play. A victim. To practice the second way is to be dominated by others.
Some pretty smart guys have written about the idea that Jesus figured out a way to be neither dominator nor victim. I’m begining to see that it’s easy to pervert this teaching.
The way in which I perverted this idea is that I used to think it was a way to escape suffering. The idea was that if I’m just clever enough I’ll somehow side-step persecution. If I just think far enough outside the box I won’t be subjected to unpleasantness.
The crucifixion itself is a microcosm for what I’m trying to say.
If Jesus had perverted the idea of the third way the same way I had, he would have sat in the garden and said, “Man, if I’m just creative enough, I’ll find a way to escape the agony of the cross.”
But Jesus didn’t do that. He said, “If this is what needs to happen, then let it happen.”
The truth that I’m beginning to see is that Jesus’ way isn’t about escaping suffering. It’s about leveraging suffering into something that magnifies God’s glory. Jesus didn’t side-step death on the cross. What he did was simply follow this death up with a resseruction.
This has huge ramifications in our every day life. As we meditate on how to handle things in a Christ-like way, it changes the question we are asking. It moves us away from “How can escape suffering?” to “How can I use my suffering for the greatest good.”