From Jesus To Gandhi: Re-Reading the Gospels

A reader writes:

You reader asked, "If you don't believe in mandatory food and shelter for freeloaders, what do you think Christ meant when he said that if a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak also?" This was taught to me by Jesuits NOT as a call for forgiveness but rather a call to Social Protest.  This comes from Matthew 5:40 and it says:

And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic,  give him your coat also.

In Hebrew law, a person could not be deprived of "shelter". Meaning you could sue for everything a man has, but you had to leave him some shelter, which for the poor would be a cloak, which would have been a thicker garment suitable for cold nights. So what this passage is saying is that if someone sues you for everything you have, then you might as well give him your cloak as well. Which would have left you stark-naked, and therefore embarrassing everyone in the room, from the court, to the judge, to the plaintiff themselves. This comes after Matthew 5:39, which says:

But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.

A strike on the right cheek would be a backhand (remember the striker wouldn’t have used the left, or sinister, hand). That backhand is an insult; to "offer the other cheek" is to offer an open-handed slap, which again for the time, would have been inviting a duel. A duel among equals. And this passage is followed up with Matthew 5:41

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

Meaning that if a master commands you to carry something a mile down the road, you carry it the mile, as commanded, but then you go the extra mile in protest.

This is the how-to guide that Gandhi and Martin Luther King would use almost 2000 years later. Non-violent protest of unfair civic institutions - a way to raise yourself up, without raising a hand. This is my Christ. This is why I still follow him.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

What Advice Would You Give to Adults?

"If you have a problem, go meditate or go on a vacation. Don't think about it."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it."

Video

What's Your Favorite Slang Word?

From "swag" to "on fleek," tweens choose.

Video

Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.

Video

How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

Just In