Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thinking About Turning the Other Cheek

A few days ago, a Facebook friend posted this link about a restaurant owner who kicked out a Tennessee congressman who made inflammatory remarks about gays and lesbians:

I mulled over this post for quite some time as I realized the deep conflict within me.  One part of me realizes I would probably do the same thing.  The times someone has used a position of power to poke fun at me, my faith, my personhood, or even my daughters' skin color has raised a level of anger within me that is no laughing matter.  Thoughts of revenge or spitefulness fill my head quickly, and I get a bit of self-satisfaction from picturing myself pummelling whoever said such remarks.  It's safe to say that if I were in a position of power at those moments, such thoughts might indeed become reality.

The second part of me reaches into the faith Christ taught His followers about turning the other cheek.  Instinctively, I hit the "eye for an eye," but Jesus calls me (and His disciples) to walk another path.  Much good work has gone into understanding Jesus' comments, but as I reflected upon this story and my own reactions, I believe I was led to another understanding--an understanding that has to do with power.

Usually bullies and others who make inflammatory, derogatory, and false accusations do so because they believe they have a position of power or authority and will receive no repercussions.  In a sense, they are in charge and in control when they make their comments.  Those who receive them build up anger and resentment quickly, and if the tables are turned where the "powerless" becomes "powerful" then watch out.  Justice will be served.

This is exactly what happened in the above article.  The restaurant owner has a smidgen of power, albeit not as much as the congressman, but it was still power to exact a note of revenge.  Note: she doesn't call it so.  She calls it standing up to a bully and showing someone what it feels like to be discriminated against.  The first part, maybe.  The second part is as good a definition of an eye for an eye as it gets!

Jesus, I think, understands our nature when it comes to this.  Jesus understands our anger and frustration and our desire to exact our own form of justice, but He expects His followers to be different.  He expects us to turn the other cheek.  Why?

As I thought about this more, I thought about a video entitled "Dust" by Rob Bell.  In it, he speaks about the Rabbinical Tradition of ancient Judaism.  Long and short of the matter, Rob is convinced Jesus is part of this tradition, and I think Rob is onto something.  The Rabbi would go around picking his students with the expectation they would become as much like him as possible.  This meant, they would not only teach the things he taught, but they would do the things he did.

Think about that for a moment when it comes to Jesus calling His disciples--not only would they teach what He taught, but they would DO what He DID.  Healing, casting out demons, curing leprosy, making the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the blind see, raising the dead, walking on water, feeding the hungry, walking on water, calming the storm--all these things Jesus figured the disciples could do.  The Book of Acts actually shows this happening!  If we take such notions seriously, then Jesus was talking about having real power--the power of God.  Such power requires great discipline to use.

Our human nature would be to use such power to bring about our own form of justice--an eye for an eye.  But Jesus' nature is to use it differently.  Jesus' nature is to work to bring about compassion even when derided by others.  It's a tough act to follow.

In fact, I'd almost argue that one of the reasons we don't see many acts of healing and power in our churches in the U.S. these days is we're not much for turning the other cheek these days.  Not many of us have the discipline to wield such power in the manner Jesus describes.  We're into justice.  We're into the eye for an eye thing.  Our dreams of power turn to revenge and retribution and righting the wrongs.  I know I am, and it's tough to admit that.

I, like that restaurant owner, have a ways to go in overcoming such things.  Perhaps, by the grace of God, I'll get there one day.

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