One day, a pastor sat down with a local high school football star. The pastor asked the young man, "David, your family has come to church for many years. They faithfully brought you to church year after year after year. I have noticed, however in the last two years, I have continued to see them, but I no longer see you. What is going on? How come you don’t come to church anymore?"
The young man sheepishly shrugged his shoulders. "I don’t know, pastor. I guess I just don’t want to."
Not satisfied with the answer, the pastor pushed harder, "I don’t believe you David. I think you know why you aren’t going to church, but you must be afraid to tell me."
"I am not afraid!" David almost shouted back.
"Then, tell me," the pastor said.
"Do you really want to know?" David asked.
"Well, pastor, I think Christianity is for wimps," David said.
The pastor stammered, "What? How can you say that?"
"Look at it from my perspective, pastor. I’m a football player, and a good one. I’ve got colleges banging down my door for me to come and play with them. They come because they know I’m tough. They know I don’t take anything off of anybody when I’m on the football field. If you try to knock me down, I’m going to beat you to the punch and hit you first. If you do manage to put me to the ground, I’m going to get back up and take you out on the next play. I’ve worked very hard throughout junior high and high school to get bigger, stronger, and faster. I don’t let anybody push me around, and I’m going to get a free college education because of it."
The pastor allowed David to finish, and then he asked, "So what does that have to do with you not coming to church?"
"The church tells me I have to be a wimp," David replied. "Y’all go on and on and on about loving Jesus and caring for other people. Y’all go on and on and on about sacrificing yourself. I even remember a sermon you preached about turning the other cheek. You try doing that on the football field and see how far it gets you. You wouldn’t have a recruiter looking at you if you tried that."
The pastor was silent. He didn’t know what to say. For years, he had wondered why it seemed like more women attended church faithfully and with gusto. He had wondered why women seemingly had to drag their men into the pews. David’s words hit him like a truck. Was Christianity for wimps? Did Christianity turn Jesus’ followers into doormats?
It’s a legitimate question I think the church should wrestle with. Does our teaching lead us to a place where we have to take it when people bully us, try to hurt us, and impose their will upon us? Do we have to keep turning the other cheek time after time after time and do nothing about it? Do we have to allow others to knock us down and then wait for God to take care of it? And what does that do to those of us who strive to be strong and protect our families and friends from harm? Do we have to be wimpy?
Interestingly enough, I came across an opinion piece the other day on the Fox News website. It was written by Steven Crowder a writer and comedian. As I read, I was floored by what this gentleman had to say. Mind you, this guy has no formal, theological training. He is not a pastor. He is a lay person, but his insight into this matter is absolutely astounding, and I would like to share it with you this morning. Steven writes, and this is lengthy, so I apologize for reading it:
See, some folks see the act of turning one’s cheek as a moment of weakness; some folks see it as a challenge. It’s neither. How so?
Think about that for a moment. Think about how that simply makes turning the other cheek a radical form of power–true power to be exact. Think about how powerful Jesus was and is. Think about how when he was hanging on the cross, how he could have called down legions of angels to rescue him from death, to destroy his enemies, but instead, he chose to die for those who crucified him. He chose to turn to the thief who asked to be remembered and utter the words, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." Jesus chose to exercise the power of heaven–the power in which he was granted.
Today, we take a moment in the church to recognize the power that Jesus has. It is Christ the King Sunday where we remember that Jesus is King of Heaven and that one day he will return to be King of Earth. We remember his conquering of death, not in a display of military power or might, but in humble obedience to his Father, dying for the sake of all. As Steven pointed out, it wasn’t that he couldn’t have used that kind of strength, but it was because he chose not to. He wanted to show us that there is another path, another way of doing things. A way that takes even more strength and more determination, and dare I say it, more power.
A few weeks later, the pastor caught up with David after a football game. "David, it’s good to see you again."
"Oh, hi pastor," David said, as he hurriedly tried to get away.
"Wait just a second, David," the pastor said. "I want to ask you a question."
"What’s that?" David asked.
"Late in the fourth quarter, you had the opportunity to really nail the ball carrier. You could have hit him so hard he would have been feeling it next week. Yet, I noticed you backed off. You only tackled him. Why did you hold back?"
"Aw, Rev., the game was over. We were winning by a huge margin. I didn’t want to add insult to injury. Taking that guy out wouldn’t have been right."
"So, you could have, but you chose not to?"
"David, I want you to think a moment about Jesus and what he did. He was the ultimate one who turned the other cheek. He could have destroyed his enemies. He is king of the universe, and he had the power to do so. Instead he chose to die for them. Do you think that’s really wimpy?"
David paused a moment. "I’ll have to think about that, pastor. I really will."
Maybe we all need to think about that. Amen.
Let me walk you through a couple of examples. The first would be the protagonist of a quaint little book: the New Testament. It’s easy reading, the kind of thing you can skim through with a cup of coffee on your daybed. The man is Jesus.
When Jesus told others to "turn the other cheek," he said so knowing full well that it would be his ultimate act of defiance. The man was beaten, tortured and crucified but did nothing about it. Could he have? Umm, he’s Jesus. That’s the whole point. As a matter of fact, without the resurrection, Jesus would have never been able to "turn the other cheek" because he would have been… well, dead. He could have swatted down those centurions at any given moment but consciously chose not to, and that’s why his story is so impressive.
It’s very different from the modernized interpretation from parents who have gone soft. How often do we hear self-righteous claims like "Oh, we don’t teach little Johnny to fight. He’s learned to turn the other cheek."
No, you’ve taught little Johnny to be a coward. He’s not turning the other cheek. Johnny’s a wimp and has no choice. He is completely powerless and so he ultimately has to give up his milk money. A true example of turning the other cheek would be: "Oh, actually little Johnny is a state-level wrestler and a black belt in Judo. He’s more than capable of handling himself but we teach him to avoid confrontation whenever he possibly can."
The point that I’m making here is this: The act of turning one’s cheek only exists as a legitimate option to the one who could just as easily choose not to.