If the violence that humans do to each other is the original, foundational, and archetypal sin that plagues all creation, then we would expect that Jesus would address this problem; that he would provide us a way out of this mess that we do; that he would save us from this sin that we do—our sin. The typical way that we have been taught that he has dealt with our sin is through his death, and that is true. I’ll address that later. Right now I want to address how Jesus addresses this through his teachings. We typically see his death as salvific and his teaching as being, well, something else. Not salvific, but how someone who has already been saved should live. He teaches us how to live after we’ve been saved, and then he does what he needs to in order to save us. I would argue that his teachings are every bit as salvific as his death; they show us what to do in order to escape this addiction to power-up on each other in ways that violate others i.e. do violence to others in both subtle and overt ways. If this isn’t clear even though you’ve read Jesus’ teachings over and over may be (and I assert in fact is) due to a misdiagnosis of The Problem as simply being generic sin. But once we buy into the idea that the sin Jesus is dealing with is this particular sin identified above, you read Jesus’ words differently. I tried to show last week how this is so with some of the “You have heard that it was said...but I say unto you” statements in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but you can see it in other places in the Sermon as well. The Sermon begins, for instance, with the Beatitudes:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
They read differently this way, don’t they? And I would argue that you have to do less interpretive gymnastics in order to make sense of them than when there is no real identification of the problem they are addressing. (I could use the rest of this space to delineate how they address The Problem, but a) I think you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself and b) I think there is great value in you doing it yourself rather than have me do it for you.)
Try this one: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44) If Jesus’s death is salvific but his teachings are not, then this is just seen as a very difficult, maybe even unrealistic, statement that we should do but even if we don’t we’ll be OK because Jesus’s death saves us from the sin of not loving our enemies but in fact seeking to kill them. If The Problem is that all of us feel justified in killing our enemies—well, OK, maybe not our enemies, but at least the enemies of our country—then we see that Jesus’s command in fact is intended to break our addiction to violence.
How about this one: "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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matt. 5:38-39) This directly addresses the issue of escalating violence due to the need for “justice”. Formerly it only sounded like a recipe for getting beat up—which in fact it is—with no particular end in mind—which in fact it is not. The end game is to stop the cycle of violence not by resorting to it but by absorbing it self-sacrificially.
Which is exactly what Jesus did on the cross.