“The game changer”
Not long after getting a transfer in my banking employment from a small country town to the regional “city” of Port Augusta, I found myself waiting to play my first game with my new Central Augusta football team mates while watching the lead up game and as “luck” would have it I learnt something of what was in store for me when I saw one of the forwards take a mark in front of goal and then be punched flush in the face from an opposition player coming from the other direction.
Interesting style of football I thought but what “got” me was not that a fight followed, nor the comment of my team mate next to me who remarked that “the player involved was gutless and shouldn’t be allowed out there.” What got me was that after having agreed was what his assessment actually meant when he continued with “yes, if someone can’t take a punch without fighting back he is pathetic and a blight against the whole team”.
I thought he might have been pulling my leg until half an hour later as we got changed I saw one of the other teams players come in with a clearly broken arm seemingly bearing no pain and chatting merrily away to the guys in our team that he knew as if he’d only hurt a fingernail and in that 30 minutes of time I learnt more of the courage required than I had learnt in enduring the previous four months of preseason fitness and weights training.
It was a valuable lesson not unlike of what Jesus talk of today in the gospel where we after our “preseason training” of hearing and studying the Word are led by that strength not to retaliate against those who attack us, but the strength to absorb the hits and stay true to the game plan of what it means to be saved in Christ.
As with my Central Augusta team mate to me, Jesus in today’s gospel yet again challenges the Jewish people listening to him not by changing the game, but by changing how it’s played in hitting them with scripture that they all knew and for us to see what they came to hear we need not criticise and abuse, but firstly take a walk in the shoes of those hearing this radical message of Jesus for the first time.
“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is straight from the old testament and not designed by God for the outbreak of violence but to limit it by curbing our desire to give back more than what we got and even then, though this law allows one to get even within limits, it does not require one to get even and in that light we see the true purpose of this Old testament law not as savage and bloodthirsty, but of a beginning of mercy.
Enter the fulfilment of mercy in Jesus Christ who doesn’t render His audience as wrong but gives a fuller understanding and in saying “Do not resist the one who is evil” and knowing that in the word translated as resist in this context means “do not render evil for evil” we see that Jesus is not telling us to be weak and passive, but to have the courage of not being of a vindictive and revengeful mind set and return fire not with fire, but return fire with goodness and I would suggest to those present and indeed to ourselves that at the very least we ask ourselves how does this actually play out in our lives and so not to leave either of us wondering Jesus responds with four examples of which due to time constraints I will talk of one.
In understanding Jesus response of “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” again we have to sit with those present at the time to understand. Firstly we see that is not about standing there like a punching bag because in knowing that the first blow mentioned is to the right cheek and in likewise knowing that by far the most natural hand used is the right hand we see that it’s virtually impossible when face to face to properly land a blow flush with right hand to the left cheek. So physically it cannot be a punch but a slap from the back of the hand and in the time of Jesus and still in parts of the world now, a slap to the face with the back of one’s hand is not designed to physically punish but to insult and to the Jews of the time it was considered a gross insult and one of the most demeaning acts one could inflict on another person, and so again, Jesus is saying to us not to return fire with fire with insults and rumour, but to avoid retaliation and personal revenge.
Those of my era may know the song that goes “O’ Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way” and if we as Christians did to that of how Jesus changes things around we would be singing “O’ Lord it’s easy to be humble when we are not perfect in anyway”.
Problem is that in our sin and in our world that that keeps showering us with our right to do this and our right to do that, as is it hard to always be humble so too is it not to return fire with fire. Because that’s our right, right? Well contrary to what society tells us in self- help groups designed to empower us to reach our potential and reign at the top of the heap in all our glory, as disciples of Christ we have actually given away those rights and signed up to die to self as said in John where we are told “He must become greater and we must become less”.
Unfortunately, this side of heaven we will never fulfil those words as most assuredly in ourselves we will never live up to the last words in today’s gospel that inform us that “therefore you must be prefect, as your heavenly Father is prefect”.
So what to do? Nothing and everything.
Nothing because in belief in Jesus Christ alone you have been saved and given the right to eternal life and from those most wonderful Words of Romans do we rest our doubts and rejoice in hearing again and again that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yet in requiring nothing other than we trust in the Lord, he gives us the right to live a life of everything.
The right to live a full life. Not a life of always getting our own way or of harbouring anger and judgement towards others whether it is just or unjust or our right. But a life of peace free from such distractions that we see the beauty of Christ and the hurt of the world and strive in any small way we can to bring them together that as He is made greater, so too the hurt smaller. Amen.