Exercise 25

EXERCISE 25: Love-in-Action – Jesus and the Roman Empire

This Exercise will help you to learn how to interpret the ‘Empire’ you live in, by meditating on Jesus’ response to the oppressive Roman Imperial presence in Palestine.

By ‘Empire’ we mean the ganging-up of economic, political, cultural, geographic and military interests that try to dominate political power and wealth around the world. ‘Empire’ typically forces the flow of wealth and power from vulnerable persons and countries to the richer, more powerful.

Jesus lived in the time of the greatest ‘Empire’ the world had experienced: the Roman Empire. It was doing exactly the same thing that we see happening in the world today: military might ensured that Roman economic interests were well served throughout the conquered territories and that rich Roman citizens got richer. Jesus spent His life urging people to resist such a system and was killed because of his message.

Jesus saw human communities very differently: He saw a world in which people looked out for each other, in which the poor and the sick were cared for by those more fortunate. He saw a world of justice, where everyone was treated fairly and respectfully. He called this ‘the Kingdom of God.’ He saw this as God’s Dream for the humanity God had brought forth out of the evolution of living beings. Some call this vision ‘God’s New Community.’

In this meditation, you will have a chance to ‘taste’ what Jesus was trying to achieve, in order for you to begin asking yourself what you can do, in your environment, to bring about God’s New Community.

  • After you have stilled yourself, read Matthew 5: 38-41.
  • Jesus gives us new rules for dealing with those who oppress us.
  • Roman soldiers had the right to demand that citizens of conquered countries carry their heavy load for one mile. But only one mile. Jesus here is suggesting that peasants carry the load a second mile. This is not simply an act of charity: it is a form of resistance. The second mile would have humiliated the soldier and caused him social unrest among his comrades.
  • In the same way, if a slave-owner slapped his slave, by custom he would have to do it with the right hand, hitting the left cheek. If the slave now turned his right cheek, the slave-owner would have to use his left hand, and this would have brought about social disgrace in that culture. So the gesture that seems so meek was in fact a resistance to the oppression of the Empire without engaging in evil itself.

How does this sit with you? Gandhi in modern times also advocated ‘passive resistance’ in order to humiliate and embarrass the Powers that Be. What lessons can we learn from Gandhi’s passive resistance? How would you resist evil without committing evil?

Note the fruit of your meditation in your journal.