…but I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil…
How are we to interpret these words? Are we called to be doormats, to be used and abused by others? Offer no resistance!, how is that a healthy way to live?
I think of the phrase that was often heard within groups of kids on the playground ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. The playground was often our ‘school of life’, it is where we learned how to be together, to get along, to discover and nuance the rules of the games we played so that they could be played no matter how few or many of us there were. The playground was where we learned to build and maintain relationships. Sometimes there would be arguments and disagreements, sometimes among the boys (at least it seemed more so with the boys than girls) there would be pushing and shoving and maybe even (simple) fights, but when the fight was over, the friendship was still there, sometimes with a little more respect.
But words, words are different, words cut to the quick, words can cause us to second guess ourselves, tap into our insecurities and even our self-worth. Sometimes when we are attacked with words, we can’t think quick enough to respond. Words can be violent and can lead to more violence. Words can tap into the ‘Jezebel’ within each of us!
I don’t think we are called to be ‘thick skinned’ and let words bounce off us, rather I think we are called to let the words touch us and discover what is being triggered within us. The ‘sticks and stones’ refrain perhaps was intended to slow us down, to pause and walk away, so we wouldn’t ‘react’ with similar mean and angry words. But when we walk away, we need to acknowledge and feel the hurt and the sting of the words, ask God to help us notice what is really going on within us, remember that we are loved by God, and together with God, we can respond rather than react.
Non-violent communication would say we need to pause and discover and acknowledge what we are feeling and then discover and acknowledge what we need in the moment as a result of those feelings.
St. John of the Cross would remind us that we need to name the hurt, and claim the hurt, so God can help us tame or transform the hurt.
Jesus says, offer no resistance stand in the tension and call on me to help you respond.
Faith Offman is the Associate Director of Ministry at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit, Michigan.