Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Walk the extra mile. Give without expecting anything in return. This week’s scripture comes with several big and nearly impossible challenges. These are Jesus’ greatest hits. The ones that we all idealize, and then proclaim, “Yeah, but…” Maybe your “Yeah, but…” is based on history—that’s nice for Jesus living in the first century, but the modern world doesn’t work that way. Maybe your, “Yeah, but…” is based on your fear of others taking advantage—if I live this way, I will be the only one and people will use me as a doormat. Maybe you disguise your, “Yeah, but…” as a concern for justice—people deserve what is coming to them.
The fact is, as I observe people confront this passage, I almost always hear a, “Yeah, but…” Here’s the thing—Our “Yeah, buts…” amount to a distrust of God. Not a distrust of other people, but a distrust of God. This is Christ telling us what it means to live meaningfully as children of God, but rather than trust Christ and attempt to live into these proclamations, we try and shrug it off. “Jesus couldn’t possibly be serious about these things.” Or more likely, we try to shift the blame—”its not that I don’t trust Jesus, its that I don’t trust other people.” Or, “If I live by these things, and others don’t I will end up getting run over.”
But what if all of these sayings have nothing to do with the response of other people, but have everything to do with your decision about how you are going to live and see the world. What if you stopped worrying about being a doormat or about what people of the 21st century will do if you act this way and just start acting this way? What if you simply refused to play by other people’s games, and instead decided to take this to heart. What if you stopped worrying about whether there would be a second blow on your cheek, another mile to walk or never-ending giving? What if you just said I am going to live with this ethic regardless of how others act? I think part of really understanding this passage is to stop worrying about what other people will do in response and just start living it. You can’t determine what other people will do, but you can determine how you will be affected by it.
You can’t stop that swing of the hand from someone else, but you can change the way that you react to it. You can’t change how much someone may take from you, but you can determine whether it will steal your energy and peace of mind as well. You can’t affect whether someone wants to call you an enemy, but you can stop seeing others as enemies.
A lot of our, “Yeah, buts…” are the result of misunderstanding what this passage is about. It isn’t about determining someone else’s actions, it is about not getting hooked by their brokenness. It is about ending cycles and starting new ones. If you turn the other cheek, someone may hit you, but if you hit back, I guarantee their will be more blows to follow. If you confront injustice with a supposed “Justice” that gets even, you really only guarantee that the cycle will continue and you will lose even more in the long run.
However, if you stop worrying about what others will or will not do, but you focus on your response, you can end vicious cycles that continue to dehumanize all of us.
I really do think that two of the most fearful words in the English language are, “Yeah, but…” When on our pastor’s retreat a few years ago, we learned about Improv and the rallying cry is, “Yes, and…” That is, someone throws something out for you to work with and you run with it and see how you can take it to the next level. Instead of, “Yeah, but…” you proclaim, “Forget your fear,” and you run with it. Jesus’ words here are the ultimate call for Improv. Turn the other cheek? Yes, and…lets see what we can do to find another way to deal with this problem instead of resorting to blows. Give without expecting anything in return? Yes, and… let me see what I can do to make sure you are in a situation where you don’t need to take anymore.
Yes, this passage does ask a lot of us…and, this passage also promises a lot to us. We don’t have to face the world, other people and God with a, “Yeah, but…” on the tip of our tongue. Instead, we can end the cycles of brokenness that we seem destined to repeat, if we will just have the courage to say, “Yes, and…”