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Turning The Other Cheek - Matthew 5: 38-end
We expect this of course. Jesus, meek and mild, tuning the other cheek does not surprise us very much. But try putting this to a teenage boy! My second adopted son, Christopher takes after his natural father in build. He was 6’ 6” high and equally wide. By thirteen, Christopher was taller, wider, broader and had a longer reach than any of his contemporaries and indeed was bigger than many older than him. With this in mind, why little Johnny jostled Christopher in the dinner queue and to boot threw in a handful of boyish insults is a mystery. Back then Christopher was certainly of the “eye for an eye” or “tooth for a tooth” party or more accurately “two eyes for an eye” and a whole mouthful for a tooth. So it was then, that the following morning we took the now becoming ever familiar journey to the headmistress’ office to discuss the question of Johnny’s broken nose.
"Why?”, I asked later, “did you not just let the little push pass? You know, turn the other cheek?“
“That’s just stupid”, he said “Christian stuff - nobody really does that. I mean they’d lose their respect init ?
And that was that, no amount of persuading and pointing out that had he behaved differently then he would have been playing in the school rugby match, wouldn’t have been excluded for a few days and would have been having a good time with his mates made any difference. No - Johnny had jostled him and the only suitable response was to thump him.
Now you might be sitting there thinking, “that’s only yob culture or rotten parenting maybe“ and in a way you would be right. However, I worry that there are many fatal stabbings of young men and boys under the age of 21 in cities as far apart as London and Inverness. Eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth are costing lives. New lives that have hardly begun, so, if we can find a way to change this, to communicate Jesus’ message more effectively then surely we must.
And Jesus’ message in today’s reading is particularly strong.
It goes much further than turn the other cheek, (and walk away) which Christopher found so weak. No, it is hugely pro-active. Going the extra mile, giving away your cloak, not for someone you like but for people we don’t like and moreover don’t like us. These are not the acts of a weak person.
I had once a very unpleasant boss. There were hosts of things I wanted to reproach him with. He really was bad in many ways. However, one day, after he had waddled back from a lunch, full of red wine and was busy with his bearded florid face (too close for comfort) giving me, at length, the benefit of his accumulated business wisdom, it suddenly struck me, “God loves him”! Quite unbidden this thought came to my mind, “God loves this fellow”
It took a while to take it in, during which I heard not a word of what he said, but from then on I changed toward him. It was as Jesus said, “He makes the sun to shine on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Here is the reason that we are to be loving to those who hate us, because God is!
This is a strong message, very strong indeed, especially because Jesus is not speaking from weakness. It is strong because he is God, turning the other cheek. A God who could cure the sick who drove out demons, who was and is all powerful and yet, who would submit to unimaginable brutality and death.
In Graham Kendrick’s words:
“Hands that flung stars into space
This is not a passage about the meek walking away but of the strong and capable choosing to turn away. Maybe I had presented the message wrongly to Christopher. He didn’t see the strength, the statement, the power of the idea.
But then, about a year ago I was collecting Christopher, now 15, from an evening out and on the way home in the car he began telling me of the day’s events. Now those of you with teenagers, will immediately smell a rat! They don’t do that, you know jump into the passenger seat with,
"Hi Dad, let me tell you what happened today.”
They more likely immediately retune the radio, with perhaps a grunt.
Anyway, it seemed that mid-morning he had met Johnny in the village, who had thrown a mountain of insults. As you may imagine, my heart began sinking as I imagined the end of the tale and the forthcoming trip to the police station.
“You know what I did?”, he asked.
I shook my head.
“Well, I walked away.”
And there were two things there. Not only did he turn the other cheek but he was proud of it, proud enough that he wanted to tell his old dad all about it.
Or maybe, just maybe he wanted to teach me something. That I needed to know that the strong thing to do is to turn the other cheek.