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#EyeRollers, Week 4 — The “Turn The Other Cheek” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Dealt with the best-known and least-loved eye roller, turn the other cheek;
  • Hinged on the reality that when Jesus speaks hypothetically in Matthew 5:38-42 become actual for him.  He becomes the stories that he tells.
  • This eye rolling section is an autobiographical preview of the Passion!
  • Led to this bottom line:  The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

Studio Portrait Of Man Suffering With Toothache

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38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 

Many years ago, there was a successful boxer from Ireland who was converted to Xnty and became a travelling evangelists.  And one time, he was in a new town setting up a big tent for the revival when a couple of hooligans (Irish word!) noticed what he was doing.  They didn’t know that he USED to be a pro boxer, so they began insulting him.  He did nothing.

Then one of the hooligans got a little bolder and hit the boxer turned preacher on the side of the face.  The preacher still didn’t say a word but instead stuck out his OTHER jaw for the hooligan to hit.  He did.  At that point the boxer turned preacher quickly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no FURTHER instructions!”  WHOMMMPPP!

And that’s what we want with this eye roller, don’t we?  It’s maybe the best-known and most-used of all of them – turn the other cheek –  and we want to know its limits, understand its boundaries, learn when we can stop listening to it.  We want to restrain IT before it restrains US.  Because it really does sound like a recipe for disaster does it not?  To get taken advantage of, to be abused, to, in this recovery-centric world, to become co-dependent by tolerating the misbehavior of others … puh-leeze.  And don’t even get me going about whether these verses are for national defense policy or not.  Go ahead Al-Qeda, here’s the other cheek.  Adolf?  Here’s the other one.  ISIS, here ya go.  Lord, if THAT’S what he meant, it might be time to find another Jesus.

At every turn, we take this eye roller and limit it, restrain it, confine it.  And worst of all, we stop right after it because its words are shocking enough.  And so we whittle it down to something manageable, we reduce it to a little moralism:  don’t fight back!  Don’t get revenge! Be a good boy!  And while there may be more than a grain of truth to that, this is still true: if we stop at 5:39, we miss what Jesus is really claiming.  Because like every other eye roller, this one does not stand in isolation from the words around it.  And in that continuum (not isolation) there is a pattern, a truth, that is so breathtaking & so revolutionary I can’t wait to give it to you.  But wait you must.

Because look how it starts: READ 5:38.  We look at that first part where Jesus quotes Exodus 21:24 and it seems almost barbaric; at least that’s how it has been presented to us.  But actually, that’s not the case.  The Exodus law Jesus quotes actually puts limits on revenge.  Before this teaching and others like it came out, revenge had no limits.  If someone from another tribe killed a man from your tribe, for example, the typical response was to go to that tribe and try to kill EVERYBODY.  The revenge was not proportional; it was massive.  So the eye for eye & tooth for tooth law that Jesus quotes was a great step forward.  It was merciful.  It kept things in line.  It kept score. It was limited, helpful, and it MAKES SENSE.

But then Jesus comes along, takes a command that makes sense and turns it into a demand that doesn’t.  Look at 5:39: READ.  Notice how it says you hit on the “right cheek” there?  Assuming that most people are right handed, how does a right hander hit you on the right cheek? Right!  With the back of the hand!  And in ancient times, to hit someone with the back of the hand was a DOUBLE INSULT.  So: if someone gives you a double insult and LEGALLY YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO FIGHT BACK, Jesus says, don’t. Thanks.

But remember!  We’re not stopping at 5:39 because we want to get the whole picture of this eye roller.  So look at 5:40: READ.  There is a difference between a shirt and coat there (or, tunic & cloak).  The shirt is your night shirt, your undergarments, your unmentionables.  The cloak – it’s different.  No one ever had any legal right to take your cloak from you.  It represented your identity, your security. It was the outer garment and it was simply kind of sacred in forging who you were in those days.  So this particular demand of Jesus to give not only your unmentionables when you are sued in court but give your cloak as well leaves you there in the middle of the courtroom in your birthday suit.  Turning a whole nutha kind of cheek if you know what I mean.  But there Jesus goes again – taking a command that makes sense and making it a demand that doesn’t.

But he goes on in 5:41: READ.  You know what’s going on there?  Israel at that time was OCCUPIED TERRITORY and the invading Romans could grab any random citizen and make them carry whatever the Romans needed carrying for as long as needed.  Treated people as if they were beasts of burden.  That’s actually what happened when Simon of Cyrene has to carry Jesus’ cross for a time on Good Friday – conscripted into it.  And Jesus, again, says don’t insist on your rights, don’t resist the evil, go the extra mile joyfully.  Bleh.  And then, to the great dismay of all of us who have vowed not to CO-SIGN with anyone, ever, Jesus concludes this little section of terror in 5:42: READ.  Give and loan.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather GIVE than LOAN because in a loan you get bitter when it doesn’t get paid back.  And with these repeated non-sensical demands, Jesus just keeps piling on: (GET BLOCKS) TURN CHEEK, GET NAKED, WALK A MILE, GIVE, LOAN.  That escalation leads to the most fascinating pattern.

But before I tell you what that pattern is, do you see what else is going on here?    Notice how all the little examples are conditional?    If if if ?  Guess what? For Jesus they became not hypothetical but actual.  Do you see, again, how Jesus BECOMES the stories that he tells?  He’s the one who is beaten and doesn’t fight back.  He’s the one who is stripped naked.  He is the one who is conscripted to carry his own cross.  He’s the one who GIVES.  This little avalanche of non-sensical demands becomes so much more about him than us.  What a story teller! What a Savior!  Because at every point Jesus had the right – legal and divine – to assert his power.  To insist on his respect.  And at every step – trial, sentence, scourging, road trip to Golgotha, crucifixion – he didn’t use the power available to him. He refused to assert his rights because he had to win our redemption.  He was never more assertive than when he refused the power at his command, when he ignored the rights that were his.

And when you realize these little hypotheticals are actual in Jesus, that the whole section is more about him than us, it turns it from eye roller to hand raiser.  Here it is:  The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.  Yes!  You’ve got rights!  You have legal rights to retaliation, you have right to clothing, to security, not to be pushed around, you’ve got 2nd Amendment rights, goodness you’ve got the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  You even have the right to remain silent!  And yet the greatest use of those rights is the steadfast refusal to wrap yourself up in them. It’s not very American, I know, but it is very Jesus. The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

And do you know why this is possible?  Because all these verses are more about Jesus than us!  When you understand that Jesus becomes the stories he tells here you can be so strong that you stop asserting your rights at every turn.  Why?  Because when Jesus has you, when you are secure that you have been bought by the abandoned one and redeemed by the risen one, you don’t need revenge.  Youu don’t need the status your clothes bring you.  You don’t even need to put up a fight every time you get pushed around.  Not because you’re a conflict avoider, but because you’ve got this deep joy and these deep priorities from belonging to him.  You’re perfectly satisfied with life even without all the icing on top because Jesus is the cake itself.  And that alone is why you can joyfully The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

See, this is why we’ll never have this at this church:  AV Reserved For Preacher / First Lady parking signs.  Puh-leeze!  I know how deeply I long for status and recognition, and I understand how wicked that is!  How separated from the joy of Jesus it is.  It’s just a little bit of how we as a church are living into The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

You know when a lot of you will be liberated by this?  In your marriage.  Some of you in marriage are so into counting up the costs, measuring everything out, ensuring there’s always a quid pro quo and and a tit for tat – that it’s all equal or that maybe you have the upper hand! – that you overlook the liberty that comes from losing every once in awhile.  Who cares if you lose a fight or don’t get your way as long as Jesus?  What happened when he didn’t get his way? Oh yeah! We got bought with his blood.  Losing is his winning formula.  I just want you, even in your most private of relationships, to live in harmony with the power that runs the universe. The power that knows The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them. 

You know when a lot of you will be liberated by this?  In your marriage.  Some of you in marriage are so into counting up the costs, measuring everything out, ensuring there’s always a quid pro quo and and a tit for tat – that it’s all equal or that maybe you have the upper hand! – that you overlook the liberty that comes from losing every once in awhile.  Who cares if you lose a fight or don’t get your way as long as Jesus?  What happened when he didn’t get his way? Oh yeah! We got bought with his blood.  Losing is his winning formula.  I just want you, even in your most private of relationships, to live in harmony with the power that runs the universe. The power that knows The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

And then some others of you who have a great desire to get even with folks … you need the liberation, too.  You want to get even with the boss who fired you.  The spouse who divorced you.  The church that disciplined you.  And your immediate response is to keep score.  And when you keep score, you can’t wait til you EVEN IT.  But you know what that’s like, don’t you?  It’s like drinking the poison while you wait for the other person to die.  Nope.  I don’t want you to end up like this from Frederick Buecher:

 Anger and vengeance is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is that 

what you are wolfing down is yourself. 

The skeleton at the feast is you.

Not gonna happen.  Not out of a grit your teeth and hold your temper.  That never works.  But instead out of this sublime, serene, “I am owned by a king who was never more powerful than when he refused to use his power.”   In most of those cases you HAVE the right to get even.  It’s just that you choose not to use the rights you have.  It’s glorious because it’s Jesus.

And then for a handful of you – perhaps people like me – who have let rules block relationships, you need this.  If protecting yourself and ensuring there’s no flexibility and everyone gets what’s theirs – you know, as if our eternity is something we earn with our activity – oh you need this.  Back in Union County, I knew this teenager who was kind of a character.

And I found out that when he was eight years old, he had tried to steal a bible from the old Cokesbury story on Tyvola Rd. Steal a bible from a Christian bookstore! A Methodist bookstore!  Well, as most eight year old bible thiefs do, he got caught.  Just think of all the rights that store employee had over that little boy!  Discipline, terror, parents, no more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles … whatever.  All kinds of rights and authority.  So what did he do? The bookstore guard took him to the back, talked to him about bible theft, and finally said, “Keep it.  It will do you more good to have that bible than it will do to make you get in a heap of trouble.”  And is it any surprise that that 8 year old boy gave Jesus his life soon thereafter?  That’s what happens when your life is in union with his … other people want what you’ve got.  What rights will you refuse to use this week?  You’ll never know who you might intro to Jesus.  The greatest use of your rights is when you refuse to use them.

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