Resisting Power and Understanding the Context in Story: Lessons from a Rebellious Messiah

One of the lines that I like out of the Richard Bach book, Illusions, states:
“I’ll quote the truth wherever I find it, thank you.”  Truth, or at least that part of knowledge we deem to be true, can be found in the most remarkable of places.

In the Review section of the Fin Review yesterday was an article by Gerard Windsor on the strange personality of Jesus.  Strange in the sense of appearing rebellious, paradoxical, a maverick – sort of like the shapeshifter archetype from Joseph Campbell’s Hero Stories.  Sort of like how KM and foresight practitioners can sometimes feel facing people in powerful positions who don’t seem “to get” what we are preaching. 

What does religion and theology have to do with KM?  When it consists of a couple of stories, the use of language, context and reversing the power balance, I think that it could be a really good examples for us to consider.

It reminded me of an article I read a while ago and which I quoted from in a KM talk last year to show how the messages in stories change over time.  Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew 5:38-41

You have heard that it was said. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist who is evil.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

This sounds like be obedient and docile against evil, be non-violent and go the extra distance.  Yet the real message is quite different and has been somewhat lost in translation over time.

Do not resist who is evil is taken from the Greek word “anistenai”.  This actually means do not use violence against someone who is evil.  His three examples point to alternative approaches. 

  1. Turn the other cheek refers to a situation when you are hit on the right cheek from a backhand, reinforcing your lowly role.  Turning the left cheek denotes hit me like a man with a fist which means being treated as a peer. 
  2. Giving someone who you are indebted to your cloak as well as coat means that you become naked, which in those days caused offence to the one who caused the nudity.
  3. Walk a second mile refers to a custom where Roman soldiers could seek the support of a civilian to take his pack one mile but no more.  Offering to take it a second mile caused discomfort to the soldier.

In all of these instances, Jesus is fomenting insurrection and insubordination in a manner tht embarasses and discomforts the oppressors without advocating violence.  He is encouraging breaking the cycle of humiliation, exposing injustice and asserting a moral position. 

These little historical examples have lost their context when we read them without an understanding of their culturally-sensitive full meaning. Apart from the message of context and translation, it also demonstrates some insubordinate methods to generate change in society though identifying abuses of power. 

A similar example was in The Age today, that of an Indian woman who has taken to photographing lechers and gropers on packed public transport in Bangalore and publishing them on a blog.  She and a group of women together stare back at leerers or board buses to read the testimony of victims of sexual harassment.  A great example of reversing the normal power balance.


One Response to Resisting Power and Understanding the Context in Story: Lessons from a Rebellious Messiah

  1. […] The movie spoke about power imbalances and approaches to counteract them.  The message was that violent revenge is our enemy and that one needs to use martial arts for self-discipline and inner development rather than violence.  A very similar message to my last blog post on resisting power through rebellious acts of insubordination from a different sort of Hero.  I was intrigued about the synchronicity of that post yesterday and seeing this movie today (since I had no idea of the similar themes).  Synchronicity is often a sign or symbol of some message that we are meant to be open towards. […]

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