In a world where antagonism is the norm, it becomes clearer that to turn the other cheek is much more than simply letting go of wrongs done to us. We must be like the good Samaritan.
The Good Samaritan is a familiar parable, and so is the saying that you must turn the other cheek. However, as you think about them both, you begin to realize that the Good Samaritan turns the other cheek. You also then need to ponder that the question of “Who is my neighbor?” was not really answered by Jesus. Instead, Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisee, and most explanations, at least the ones that I have read, of the Good Samaritan seem to utterly miss that point.
However, today I also want to ponder: What would this world be like if we were all good Samaritans?
I am going to apologize upfront because this is not going to be so much a “message” as it is a stream of consciousness spurred on by recent news events and personal happenings. I have not blogged for a while. It seems that when health concerns did not overshadow my day, technical issues predominated too many weekends. I have attempted 3 times to move this blog to another host, and I cannot explain why it has been so difficult. I have done this multiple times, and something keeps getting in the way. I am simply putting it out there, and I hope it does not come across as whining. While my problems seem to keep piling on, I would be remiss to not notice how much more so many others, including many of our brethren, have to deal with. Having been so long, there are very many things on my mind, but, as usual, I can see a common thread running through all of them, no matter how disparate the issues seemingly are.
I want to express my thanks to God for adequate health. I can still work, and I appreciate that without the blessings that this country affords, I would not be able to do so whether or not I have health. Without the conveniences of this postmodern age, I would not even be able to express these thoughts to you, dear reader. These posts probably help me more than they do you. Without God’s blessings, it would not be possible. As our national Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer (as originally called by George Washington) approaches, I hope each of us can approach God in humility and thanksgiving.
Why? Because that is the exact opposite of the current, overly sensitive, politically correct and “me first” attitude that predominates this society today. Humility requires us to understand that we are not the center of the universe. Thanksgiving requires us to acknowledge that someone else has done something for us, and so it keeps in check the attitude that we are owed anything at all, whether by others, life or God Himself.
Let me illustrate: Would Cesar Sayoc have sent pipe bombs, fake or otherwise, to all of those people if he had understood that the world owes him nothing? Would Peter Bowers have shot up a Pennsylvania synagogue (during a “baby-naming ceremony” no less) if he were humble and realized all people are descended from the same ancestors and really all of “one blood” (Ac 17:26)? Did either men turn the other cheek? Was either man a good neighbor?
Of course not.
You Are Not Immune
Yet, deep down inside, are we not all capable of doing monstrous things to others? Is not our politeness and civility a thin layer containing the worst that humanity has to offer? Indeed, if we feed the monster, will it not become stronger? Instead, should we not be feeding that which contains it?
If you think you are exempt, you are simply fooling yourself, and you are suffering from a lack of humility already.
11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
~ 1 Co 10:11-12
Simply put, the Bible warns us because we are not immune. Frankly, I believe that none of us are truly immune from doing anything. “Everyone has a price,” the saying goes, but no one believes they can be bought. Under the right circumstances, given enough time, given enough pressure, every one of us will have a price.
So, what should we be thankful for? If nothing else, we should be thankful that we are not in worse condition than we already are. We should be thankful that we have not reached the depths of our own wretchedness. We need to realize we are protected, that evil is at least somewhat restrained and no one can stand against the evil one by his- or herself.
I would bet that Adam and Eve did not fully understand the power of deception. Even after a millennium of peace under Christ’s rule, there will in the end be some that will attack Jerusalem under Satan’s sway.
Let’s make it more personal: Do you still sin? Even a “little bit”? If so, you have proven my point. If not, you have bigger problems than you realize because you are severely deceived and need professional help.
This knowledge should humble us. Let’s face the fact that turning the other cheek requires submitting of one’s self and dignity. Your ego is involved.
However, it is easy to forget who you are surrendering this to. Obviously, the perpetrator will think you are submitting to them. The truth is you are submitting in spite of them. Your real submission is to God.
It still won’t be easy, but at least realizing to Whom you are submitting should make it easier.
It also pays to realize just Who the Judge of the world is (Ps 9:8). We appeal our cause to Him, but when He answers, we need to accept our fate.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
~ Ro 12:19
Conceptually quite easy, but difficult words to live by. The Bible tells us many things that are hard. Loving our enemies is probably the hardest, but not seeking justice by our own standards is not really any easier, is it?
There is another piece of the puzzle that apparently is only documented in Matthew:
25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
~ Mt 5:25-26
The most obvious thing here is that the consequences are loss of time and money. Turning the other cheek emphasizes nonviolence, but here the consequences are spelled out, so they must be important. Indeed, time and money are often equated, so obviously they are important. Loss hurts, and financial loss and loss of time don’t hurt any less.
Yet, it is obviously important not just to you but to Jesus. The real question, though, is “Why?” Why is it important to Jesus?
Your Money, Your Time, Your Life
I’ve expressed before that you can tell what is important to a person as to how they spend their time and their money. In fact, most of Jesus’ parables involve money, when you count them up. The exact number is difficult because not everyone counts parables the same way. However, some estimate half are directly about money, and a great many of the remainder touch upon money (Prodigal Son touches on inheritance, Lazarus and the Rich Man touch upon wealth and generosity, the Day Laborers in the Vineyard touch upon our perceptions of fairness and equity and how we perceive people should be rewarded). Other than parables, how many of Jesus’ sayings involve money (Caesar and taxes, the widow’s mites, serving God and Mammon, etc)?
Is it any wonder that the largest controversies seem to center on tithing and keeping the Sabbath and holy days?
15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
~ Ep 5:15-17
We are instructed to redeem the time. Why? So that we can do the will of the Lord! If we are busy concerned with slights and injuries, then are we doing the will of the Lord?
Some in the Church of God seem obsessed with politics. I recently came across an article by Scientific American about “The One Personality Trait That is Ripping America (And the World) Apart“. I encourage everyone, especially those who get riled up by politicians, to read it. I mean, really read it. It explains quite well not only what is wrong with politics today and not only why populism is on the rise, but also a discerning person can extract why we need to step back and not get involved in the mess:
There are many divides in the world right now. But there’s one divide, deeply embedded into the core of human nature, that helps explain many other divides. What I’m referring to is a source of human personality variation that is built right into our DNA: antagonism. By really zooming in on this trait, and understanding how antagonism interacts with environmental conditioning and messaging, we can gain a greater understanding of one of the most prominent divides in the world today: populism.
Our version of democracy (really a republic, but I suppose that is splitting hairs) is based upon taking adversarial roles. We have two parties, which makes the divide into a gulf, and I have long argued is not healthy in the long run (there is no real choice when you have only two extremes in so many areas). Even our legal system is defined as an adversarial system.
This actually should not be a surprise. Our entire society is based upon the idea of competition, which requires adversaries to work against one another. Companies compete against each other in business. Movies compete for each other at the box office. TV shows compete for ratings or risk getting cut. Sports teams blatantly compete against each other as a form of entertainment. Recently, competition at online games in Florida got so heated that one person shot and killed three people including himself.
Extreme? Certainly. Having said that, many sports fans wear paint and dress up and show extreme behavior at games. Many music fans used to swoon and faint during music events. It is noteworthy that “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Need I say more?
No one is saying that dedication and commitment to something is not worthwhile, but to a sports team? To a rock band? To just plain winning? Is that how you want to define your life?
Make no mistake about one thing, either. Politicians are in it to win. Few will not bow to the special interests and pressures (not to mention the money) to compromise on important issues. Few will campaign civilly instead of tearing down and outright slandering their opponent.
Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almosts.
~ Kobe Bryant, BrainyQuote
Need I say more?
David, the Warrior King
Is there any question that we are called to be different?
16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
~ Mt 10:16
Still, one may wonder about King David. After all, did he not go to war? Did he not pray to God to avenge himself from his enemies?
Well, yes and no. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with taking our case before God. There is nothing wrong with pleading with Him, whether it be for mercy or for justice. David did so, and he did so quite often. Many of the Psalms are called “imprecatory psalms”, wherein the author cries out for vengeance, justice and/or curses.
However, most of the Psalms are not. Indeed, even those which are imprecatory are not for gloating or celebrating the destruction of one’s enemies. Rather, they truly are cries for justice from a very real victim. They recognize that it is God Who decides and delivers vengeance if and when needed. They recognize that we of ourselves are powerless to help ourselves, and, therefore, we are truly indigent victims indeed. Most of all, imprecatory psalms are not about final judgment. Rather, they are about preparing the wicked for repentance and humility. In perspective, they humbly acknowledge that God is sovereign, reigns over men and is the Judge of us all. Remembering that he is the judge of ourselves as well as others helps to temper our indignation against injustice.
And, what of David himself? Yes, he was a man of war. However, remember he also ran from Saul for 20 years (give or take 5 years). He would not touch God’s anointed. In fact, the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul was killed by David himself. Instead, David actually praised Saul and Jonathan at their funerals. David did not take vengeance for himself, but as the rightful leader of the nation, he administered justice, using the sword when called for (cf Ro 13:4).
There is a very instructive story about David, in fact. He learned a lesson from it. At first, I was very confused by the sequence of events, but I think I have come to a better understanding of them now. It is in 1 Samuel 25. I won’t quote the entire chapter here, so you might want to read it before proceeding.
Basically, David protected Nabal’s sheep and land from thieves and marauders. In return, Nabal refused to pay anything at all. It would have been David’s right to attack Nabal and take what was rightfully his. No one would have objected (except Nabal, of course). However, his wife Abigail was a much smarter person. She found out about it and intercepted David and presented him with large gifts of food.
Remember, David had been anointed king, but he had not yet been put on the throne. He could have rightfully avenged himself in the eyes of man, but God had other ideas. David would have stained his reputation by avenging himself rather than others, and he did not yet officially hold the office in which to administer justice in the first place. Essentially, he would have been a vigilante, seeking revenge.
The word nabal is often translated “fool” in the KJV. It comes from the word meaning “to wilt”, as in having no intellectual or moral strength. It often means vanity or something destroyed as well.
14The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
~ Ps 14:1
Now, atheism just wasn’t a concept in ancient cultures. However, people often act as though God is not present, not looking, etc. When we sin, are we not kidding ourselves that God does not know or care? Who is the fool then?
The fool does not turn the other cheek. Neither does the fool desire to be a good neighbor.
Who Is My Neighbor?
So, let us look again at the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s introduction is instructive.
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
~ Lk 10:26-29
The instruction to love your neighbor as yourself prompted the question to clarify just who is our neighbor. Granted, he wanted to justify himself for whatever reason, but, on the surface, is that not a reasonable question?
Jesus tells the tale of a traveling businessman who is ambushed by thieves. Was he the neighbor? No, it turns out that he is not.
Sometime later, a priest, a highly respected man of God, passes by. Was he the neighbor? No, he was not either.
Afterwards, a Levite, someone who works in the Temple and does God’s work, passes by. Was he the neighbor? No, neither was he.
Lastly, a hated Samaritan, a true dog of a man, despised among all of the Jews, with their warped and twisted religion, interlopers in the land that once belonged to Israel, came along and helped the man. He went out of his way to not only bind his wounds but to put him up somewhere so he could recuperate.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
~ Lk 10:36-37
The Samaritan was the neighbor. He showed mercy. He did more than just turn the other cheek. He did more than just agree with his adversaries quickly. He did not seek revenge. If he held any hostility towards the Jews, he worked past it to have mercy on the stranger, a Jew no less. Would the traveling businessman done the same for him? We don’t know, but it is likely he would not have.
There is something easy to overlook here: Jesus did not directly answer the question. IOW, it is the wrong question. The correct question is not “Who is my neighbor?” at all! Rather, the correct question is, “To whom can I be a good neighbor?”
Who do you hate? Who do you hold a grudge against? Who do you wish revenge upon? Will you take matters into your own hands? What actions will you take against your enemies? Will you dish out love or vengeance? Is it your place to administer justice? Is it your place to take vengeance?
19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
~ 1Pe 2:19-21
No, it is our place to provide love for others, even when it comes to being unjustly treated.