“Do not resist one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:39)
Those words from Jesus may be the most difficult to understand in his Sermon on the Mount. But we are in difficult times. I hesitated to write this column because there are so many emotions out there concerning how black people have been treated, seemingly forever.
I remember in the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, how I would walk the streets of Philadelphia to make my hospital visits. On one street I saw only black faces. But knowing what blacks have suffered in this country, I thought, “If some black person were to kill me simply because my skin is white, I would not fault him, because far too many black people have been killed simply because their skin is black. Unfortunately, that is still the reality for black people. And that is sad, even tragic. I wish I could fix that, but I don’t know how.
It happens that I have been reading a book titled “When Things Fall Apart,” which they certainly seem to be doing. The book calls for patience. It says that patience is the antidote for anger, a way to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience we do not mean grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could look at it and open ourselves to see what is really there. Then we need the discipline to slow us down enough to think things through adequately, so we do not act in ways that may mess things up even more.
Peaceful protests may seem like an appropriate response to the evil of racism and innocent black people being unjustly killed. But peaceful protests can have unintended consequences. They can open the door to looting and destruction of property by people who may care nothing about black lives or property. And resisting those who are evil, may only make them more evil. It can fire up White Supremacists. Even George Floyd’s own brother spoke up to say that what he sees in response to his brother’s death is not helping.
Then there is the problem of unrealistic expectations. If the protestors expect that they will eliminate all racism in this country, it unfortunately will never happen. So is there any answer?
Even if we cannot totally eliminate evil, we can try to overcome it to some extent. I turn to Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Your goodness will not overcome all evil, but it is the only possible way to overcome any evil. To react to violence with more violence, only makes for more violence. Or as Jesus said when they came to unjustly arrest him to kill him, and one of his disciples tried to prevent it with his sword, “All who live by the sword, will perish by the sword.”(Matthew 26:52) Had Jesus not intervened to stop his disciple from using his sword more, that disciple and other disciples or people could have been killed in the ensuing fight. Even to save his own life, Jesus did not resist those who were evil. Sadly, even Jesus’ death did not overcome all evil.