The Sermon On the Mount and Caesar’s Sword
As I call Christians to the practices of radical forgiveness and nonviolent peacemaking that Jesus embodied and most clearly sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, I often encounter Christians using Romans 13:1–7 as a kind of rebuttal. (Though whom they’re rebutting — me or Jesus — isn’t always clear.) Their argument goes something like this:
“God has ordained the government and has given it the sword to execute vengeance; therefore we cannot be opposed to war because Romans 13 sanctions ‘Just War.’”
Usually this argument is given to me in the context of advocating that the United States government should wage total war on ISIS and other enemies of America, and that the church should celebrate this.
But this is an egregious misinterpretation and misapplication of what Paul is talking about. Let me explain.
First of all, are we really comfortable with using Paul to trump Jesus? That is what’s being done! Why is it that we are so prone to interpret Jesus in the light of a particular reading of Paul? (A reading of Paul that I — and many others — would argue is a conditioned misreading of Paul.) Why not take the Sermon on the Mount at face value and insist that any interpretation of Paul must line up with Jesus? Why not center our reading of Scripture with Jesus? I’m quite sure Paul would be entirely happy with this approach!