Often our system, in order to continue standing, has to identify an enemy, it has to create one. This is also true in children’s education. Many of us in Italy will remember when our grandparents used the term “Austrian” in a derogatory manner: if you don’t behave properly I’ll call the Austrians, they used to say. Later we referred to “the Communists” and today, perhaps, the “Muslims.
One of the first teachings of the Gospel is that of the idea of the enemy: there are no enemies, there are men. Even the Church has enemies – we have been taught – and therefore we must defend it from relativism, subjectivism, laicism etcetera, but Jesus never defended himself; and similarly neither did Peter and Paul. There is an entire history of enemies we have fought against while evil was in our midst: power, money, fear of losing our dominant position.
Thus, when Jesus says “«whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also»”, he is telling us to go beyond the enemy. In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus was slapped but he rendered it ineffective: “if I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?”
Jesus is asking us not to return violence for violence otherwise this will grow and turn into an interminable crescendo.
The logic of offering the other cheek, being stripped of one’s garments and dragged before the tribunal means recognizing violence, giving it a name and “fighting it” like the sun conquers the darkness which is gradually overcome by the expanding light.
We must begin to live this change by modifying the private spaces of our responsibility. Only men of the Beatitudes can build peace and integrate naturally into the great peace processes of history. The powerful, the privileged, the lobbies will always be foreign bodies in the peace process and become, almost without realizing it, allies of war.
When I want to qualify nonviolence, I say justice, respect of diversity, peace, the common good. I say the Beatitudes, words which give multiple names to this single truth of which Jesus was the first witness. Jesus is the witness of nonviolence, this nonviolence of the many names which are the beatitudes.
When someone has authority, a company, a position of leadership, or when a country owns resources, they should not defend them by the sword. Jesus said to Pilate: if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight. To fight with the sword is to kill, it is the violence which creates only defeats and no victors. In fact, our history is a river of blood spilt in the name of the principle that without a sword a kingdom cannot go on existing. This is why we are always at war. «Put your sword back in its place» said Jesus to Peter, otherwise right will always be with the strongest, the most violent, the cruellest and the best armed.
We must go back to the radical teaching of the Gospel, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians criticized Paul for his simplicity in announcing the Gospel not at their level of knowledge and culture. Paul answered by comparing the announcement of the Gospel to a building: the builders will be judged by whether they have placed Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, not by their highly cultural discourses but empty of spiritual content. Let us make the crucifix the foundation of our life and not an aggressive tool of civil religion.