Have you ever wondered why Jesus told people to walk around naked? It’s a topic I am hoping to make my first sermon sometime in the next two years. In the meantime here is a really short answer I offered in response to an answer on a midterm. I hope it has relevance to your life even though you may be missing all the details and context from the class! Here goes…
[Walter Wink]* appeals to the verses in Romans, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter, which say “do not repay evil for evil” and to Matthew 5 where it says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’, but I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them your other cheek also. If someone sues you and wants to take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
He appeals to these texts because he believes that this passage has often been misinterpreted to passivity instead of nonviolent resistance.
He interprets the slapping on the cheek in view of the necessity of a blow on the right cheek being given as a backhanded slap rather than as a punch. Being backhanded was a blow met to degrade. Punching was something one did when they fought an equal. He believes Jesus was telling victims to communicate to their abusers that they had the same human value and dignity as their abusers.
Wink interprets giving of cloak as well as tunic to indicate exposing the evilness of the system. Only the poorest of the poor were being stripped of everything in the time of Jesus. By the time someone was suing them for their tunic instead of their land, they had nothing. By walking out of court naked, the victim would shock his abusers as well as expose the true result of their actions. In that society the naked person was not the one on whom shame was put but rather the one who was looking upon the naked.
Wink interprets going the second mile to be a way in which the oppressed Israelites could take the initiative against their Roman oppressors. Roman soldiers were allowed to impress service on civilians and force them to carry their pack for a mile. To carry the pack a second mile would be to put the soldier in a position of possible punishment. Perhaps he would be put on barley instead of wheat, made to stand outside of the officers’ tent holding a lump of dirt, flogged or a number of other punishments. Whatever the case, the soldier wouldn’t know what was happening to him as a result of the Jew’s “generosity”. Wink calls us to consider the humor of the scene of a Roman soldier begging a Jew to give him his pack back!
This interpretation is about finding a way to resist evil without becoming evil in the process of doing so. By exposing the injustice of the system room may be created for just change.
Well, that’s that! I have much more to say on the topic, but it’s time to hit the road running. I have far more to accomplish this week than I can imagine doing.
May the grace of God be with us as we go throughout our day and resist evil in the ways Jesus teaches! Consider His life. Never did He condone it. Always did He resist it. Let us do the same, but without becoming evil in our means of doing so!
*Most information in this answer is taken from pages 98-111 of The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Walter Wink, 1998.