4-9-17 Palm and Passion Sunday The Cross- Turning the Other Cheek
The Cross as Turning the Other Cheek Mt. 27; Palm/Passion Sunday 4/9/17 LMPC Dr. Ben Sloan
NPR told the story a few years ago of Julio Diaz, a 31 year old Social worker, who every night ended his hour long subway commute to the Bronx by stopping early to eat at his favorite diner. One night the platform was empty when he got off. A teen approached him with a knife and asked for his money. Diaz gave him his wallet. The teen started to walk away but Diaz said, “Hey you forgot something- you forgot to take my coat.” He said if you are going to rob people all night, you must be cold. He then said I was just going to use the money to get something to eat. You can follow me if you want. At the Diner, the manager came by, the dishwasher came by and said “Hi.” The teen said Do you own this place? No- I just come here a lot. The bill came and Diaz said, “You’re gonna have to pay for our food or give me my wallet back and I’ll pay for our food.” He gave him his wallet back. Diaz said I want to give you $20 to help you- but you have to give me something in return. He gave him his knife. The cross is the ultimate symbol and reminder that life is not fair. In fact, Jesus was not just treated unfairly he was actively treated badly. He was treated this way by the two greatest peoples of the world who valued civility. The Jews valued justice and accountability before God. The Romans valued fairness and are world over famous (still today) for their legal thinking and system. Perhaps both had the greatest lawyers in terms of legal minds in history. Yet it is no accident that the fairest human systems were unfair to God and unfair to Jesus. Perhaps the cross is a reminder that the best politics is still human and limited and tinged with wrongness. The question is not will you be treated fairly. You will not always get a fair shake. Perhaps a better question is how fair will you be? Isaac favored Esau. Rebekah favored Jacob, and helped him steal his inheritance. Jacob had twelve sons but he favored Joseph and made him a multi-colored coat. Then he favored Benjamin and kept him from going out in the fields. The Bible is full of stories like this- not because they were worst people than us. They are full of stories like this to illustrate that they were just like us. Sibling rivalry is a reality that even adults want their parents smile over the others. Deep down inside there is a part of us that doesn’t want fairness or equality- we want favored status. We tend to say we only want fairness when we know we are not being treated fairly or with favored status. The Sermon on the Mount was lived on the Mount of Calvary in very practical ways. Jesus did not just talk about turning the other cheek, he lived it. The thing about turning the other cheek is it is a faith matter. If it were not a faith matter, we would be doormats. Martin Luther King was able to preach not the race war that the followers of Malcom X wanted, but the nonviolence because he believed it would work, and was more powerful. While it hurt in the short term- in the end the war for civil rights would be won. But for us everyday- turning the other cheek is a faith matter. We can do it because we know God sees. Revenge is not ours- it is the Lord’s because we have a God who sees and cares. When we are overlooked, when we are treated unfairly at work or school, when someone else is shown favoritism and we are left out, when we get a bad judgment and there’s nothing we can do about it- we do not have to let such things tear us up- for justice will come. Jesus was able to face the cross and his false accusers and torturers and say, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” because He knew something. He was certain of something. He had faith in something- the justice of the Father. When you see the cross- you should think of Jesus’ love and the turning of his cheek. The cross is the ultimate, visible image of turning the cheek. Jesus did not fight back, or tell his followers to do so. He told Peter to put away the sword and healed the ear of the person Peter cut off. This is important. Jesus did not come to fight evil with a sword. He fought evil with his cheek and the cross. The cross is a symbol of his whole body given as a sacrifice because of our (humanity’s) sin. Because you sin, the cross is a symbol of his body given for your sin. He was able to face the cross because He had confidence His Father would win in the end. But in the middle of it- his cheek was fully extended and red with pain. It was as if humanity was hitting Him on the cheek and He did not fight back or call for myriads of angels to come and fight back for Him. It was as if the Father was also hitting Him on the cheek. Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane right before His arrest. It appears that it is the Father’s will that He dies on the cross. Jesus predicts and prophecies He must die. Furthermore, Jesus implies God is hitting Him in the cheek when He says, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” The forsakenness of Jesus is not just neglect, but it is active abandonment. The turning of the other cheek was to the whole universe- to humanity and to the Father. But even as He turned His cheek to the Father’s wrath against our sin- He believed the Father would still see Him through. He prophesied beforehand many times that God would raise Him up. Saying that God forsakes him does not sound heroic. It sounds week and bitter. Turning the other cheek sounds cowardly too- but it is in fact something that takes greater courage than revenge. Jesus was heroic. He turned the other cheek and letting us all know He was turning it in his cry of forsakenness. He verbally expressed His spiritual pain. He did not say my head my head why is it hurting. He did not say my back my back, my lungs my lungs. No His cry was against and to His Father. It was a spiritual cry. He did not curse God and die. He was willing to hold onto His faith even in the midst of severe physical and spiritual pain. He would turn the other cheek to the Father in trust that the Father would help Him in the end. This is a lesson for us all. When we are in pain, when we are in spiritual pain- feeling abandoned and alone- let us not curse God or abandon God. When we are in doubt or we do not see how God can help- let us not abandon God but turn the other cheek to Him and trust He will raise us up. An eye for an eye is good justice for the courts. There is certainly room for nations to defend themselves. Jesus did not criticize Rome’s politics or focus on their war. But in our dealings with individuals it does not work. We must relinquish ourselves to the Father as Jesus did. He will do the defending, the guiding, the leading- and eventually justice will be done and we will be raised as Jesus was. If someone does evil to you do not resist it but absorb it. Quit hanging onto your pride, and grab hold of God. This is the hidden thing. Turning the other cheek- denying yourself- taking up your cross takes tremendous courage and great commitment. If you are half way committed it makes no sense. Peter talked of the suffering of Christ on the cross as a suffering for doing what is right, and he encouraged us all: “But when do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps…while being reviled he did not revile; while suffering he uttered no threats; but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” (1 Pt. 2:20-23)
Do not live your life blaming others for the unfairness you have received. Do not live your life being the victim- having a perennial pity party. Some will always call this door mat theology. They would say, “Jesus wants me to just put out a doormat and walk on me.” But Jesus objected to the injustice of being hit on the cheek wrongly. However, he did not whine about it. Paul objected to being beaten illegally as a Roman citizen. But he was willing to put up with suffering to reach people for Christ. Jesus is not talking about passivity but about not seeking revenge- and even embracing the unfairness to show it is unfair. But turning the other cheek, denying yourself, taking up your cross is the only way to rise above the crosses we face. The Emmanuel Nine- could have caused riots in Charleston. But showed the world Christian love keeping the city from being ruined like Ferguson Missouri or Baltimore. But turning the other cheek is not simply something we do in our own power with our own will. It takes grace, courage, strength to do it. This week on 4/15 we are approaching the four year anniversary of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing. Rebekah Gregory stood about three feet from one of the bombs. She could have easily grown very bitter as she lost a leg. But she began to see another side. Her son lay at her feet during the bombing and her leg actually shielded him from the bomb. That both he and she are alive are miracles. She wrote a good book about her experience this year called, “Taking my Life Back: My Story of Faith, Determination, and Surviving the Boston Marathon.” She points out that forgiveness of the bombers is something she is continually working on. See, Turning the other cheek in some ways is simply moving on despite the wrongness done to you. She said her faith has played a pivotal role in taking her life back. She ends her book with these words, “Do I wish things were different? Every day… But that isn’t possible. Instead what is possible is to cherish the life God has blessed me with, because I have seen what it is like to almost lose it for good… I am not a victim- I am a survivor. The cross is the symbol of this- Jesus is not a victim- He is the ultimate survivor who turned the other cheek. If you trust Him, He will give you grace to follow Him.