in the one hand, his undergarment in the other. The tables have
suddenly been turned on the creditor. The debtor had no hope of winning
the case; the law was entirely in the creditor's favor. But the poor
man has transcended this attempt to humiliate him. He has risen above
shame. At the same time he has registered a stunning protest against
the system that created his debt. He has said in effect, "You want my
robe? Here, take everything! Now you've got all I have except my
body. Is that what you'll take next?"
Imagine the debtor leaving court naked. His friends and neighbors,
aghast, inquire what happened. He explains. They join his growing
procession, which now resembles a victory parade. This is guerrilla
theater! The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been
publicly unmasked. The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate
moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to
landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive,
since it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time
in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity. Nothing
deflates them more effectively than deft lampooning. By refusing to be
awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the
initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.
This message, far from counseling an unattainable otherworldly
perfection, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the
oppressed. It is being lived out all over the world today by previously
powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
Shortly before the fall of political apartheid in South Africa, police
descended on a squatters' camp they had long wanted to demolish. They
gave the few women there five minutes to gather their possessions, and
then the bulldozers would level their shacks. The women, apparently
sensing the residual puritanical streak in rural Afrikaners, stripped
naked before the bulldozers. The police turned and fled. So far as I
know, that camp still stands.
Jesus' teaching on nonviolence provides a hint of how to take on the
entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its
pretensions to justice. Those who listen will no longer be treated as
sponges to be squeezed dry by the rich. They can accept the laws as
they stand, push them to absurdity, and reveal them for what they have
become. They can strip naked, walk out before their fellows, and leave
the creditors, and the whole economic edifice they represent, stark
Script: The female is the creditor, standing on the leader’s left.
They male is the debtor, standing on the leader’s right. The leader is
Judge: “OK, what charges have you brought against this man?”
Creditor: “He took out a loan from me and hasn’t paid it back.”
Judge: “He hasn’t paid anything back?”