Often those who do not understand Jesus’ teaching as embracing non-violent resistance point to John the Baptist’s answering soldiers’ questions in a way that does not call for them to reject that form of service to the empire. Hence, they reason, soldiering and warfare must be acceptable and faithful ways to serve the kingdom of God as well.
But I wonder. Imagine with me that such a soldier follows John’s counsel and remains in his position. Then he signs up to follow Jesus too, again on John’s direction. He hears Jesus’ teach and takes it to heart as well. He remembers that Jesus taught his followers that they should carry a soldier’s gear an extra mile beyond the one they could be compelled to carry it. This soldier rightly reason that as a follower of Jesus he should not burden Jewish peasants by forcing them to go that extra mile.
A fellow soldier observes his mate not exerting his power by not making the Jews go the extra mile.
“What’s up, buddy? Why not get a Jew to take your load the extra mile? Why wear yourself out?”
Our soldier mumbles out, “It’s not the right thing to do. Besides, my Lord teaches me not to abuse others and force them to do me bidding.”
“What’s that? When did that order come down? I must have missed the memo!”
“No,” our soldier responds, “that teaching didn’t come from the Rome. My Lord is not Caesar.”
Aghast, his companion cried out, “Well, who is it then?”
This called attention to the pair and other soldiers came closer to find out what the hubbub was about. “Hey, this guy has another Lord than Caesar! He follows his orders rather than the Big Guy’s. What do you think about that?”
“Who’s this other “Lord,” one snorts derisively.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” he replied.
“Who? Never heard of him? What’s his agenda?”
Our soldier lays out Jesus’ basic kingdom message, including his call for nonviolence.
“You’re serious about this, aren’t you? Are you looking to get yourself killed? You’re spouting treason. You know the brass won’t like that, not to mention the emperor!”
“Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think I just ought to run away and start a new life as Jesus’ follower somewhere else. Part of me just wants to stand my ground and try to legally get out of the army. Don’t know if I can, alive at least. I just know I need not to be doing this anymore.”
“Good luck, pal. You’re going to need it!”
Well, we’re just imagining. But something like this may well have happened to soldiers baptized by John into God’s kingdom movement. Surely under the influence of Jesus’ message of nonviolent resistance they would have found themselves in a similar bind. Therefore, I find little force in this particular argument against Jesus’ expectation of nonviolent resistance from his followers.