2.23.14 Peaceful Pushback
7 Epiphany A February 23, 2014
It’s not too often that I start off with a story from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, but today I’ll do that very thing.
Last October Jon Stewart had a guest who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. This was Malala Yousafzai.
I think we all have heard her story—this is the girl who, in October, 2012, at age 14, was targeted by the Taliban and shot by one of them for her outspoken defense of the right to an education for all children, boys AND girls, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Malala was hit by one bullet that passed through her brain and lodged in her back. She was in critical condition for a good long while before she made a complete recovery, having been airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. She continued to speak out for the rights of all children to an education.
A year ago she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she didn’t win; but still, she was the youngest nominee in history. And on the night before the award was announced she appeared on Jon Stewart’s show. This is how a website called Business Insider tells about the interview:
“In the key moment of the interview, Stewart asked her how she reacted when she learned that the Taliban wanted her dead. Her answer was absolutely remarkable:
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”
There’s Jesus’ teaching in the mouth of a Sunni Moslem teenager. She talks about loving her enemies by confronting them with the truth and educating them. She talks about peaceful pushback against violence instead of giving into your first inclination, which would be to hit him with your shoe. And she turns the other cheek when she says, “That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
This young woman surely is already living in the Kingdom of Heaven.
* * *
So let’s consider the content of this gospel. What exactly is Jesus teaching here? He is taking the usual concepts of honorable conduct when confronted with challenge and then taking them even further.
He says the days of an eye for an eye are over. Instead, don’t take revenge. Don’t resist evil. Instead, allow the person to so misuse you that he brings shame upon himself; or so that she brings shame upon herself. Turn your cheek; walk even longer than forced; give to beggars without any refusal.
So, what is this thing about going the extra mile, anyway? What does it mean? Well, in Jesus’ time, a Roman soldier was allowed to command anyone who wasn’t a Roman citizen to carry his armor for him—for one mile. To go the extra mile is to carry the armor for twice the distance.
Jesus says that it’s not a big deal to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Instead he says we should actually love our enemies and pray for people who hate us. That’s the real challenge. It goes against most everything we are feeling at the time.
But, now, Jesus’ conclusion is what may confound us the most. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Now, those of us who have Type A personalities may really struggle with this verse, because we’ve spent a good deal of our adult lives trying not to be perfectionists. And now this verse seems to reverse it all.
Be perfect. What does it mean to be perfect? According to my Merriam Webster dictionary, it means to be “complete in all respects.” In other words, it’s a good summary of Jesus’ teaching to do things so fully that you pass through the human inclinations and on into godly ones. Turn the cheek for more punishment. Go the extra mile. Love your enemies. Pray for them.
And we have seen this before in some humans, haven’t we? We’ve seen it not only in Malala’s words. But we’ve seen it in the words and behavior of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in the words and behavior of Mohandas Gandhi and others who resist violence nonviolently. We’ve seen it in the words and behavior of Jesus himself. And we know that the world has pushed back against people who live this Kingdom of God way, hasn’t it? All these people have suffered because of their choices to live a godly life. We will suffer as well, the more fully we live into Jesus’ teaching.
Here is that teaching in a nutshell: Break out of human ways of thinking. Be revolutionaries for peace and love. Do it more than fully. Do it completely. Be perfect as God is perfect, even when it may bring personal threat.
* * *
Now, this morning we will baptize little Logan Robert Nelson. His parents and godparents and ALL of us will be making all kinds of crazy promises on his behalf and for ourselves as well, like promising “to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” We’ll promise to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and respect the dignity of EVERY human being.” We’ll promise to resist evil, and when we sin, we promise to return to God.
These are crazy promises. They are well nigh impossible to fulfill. But they are embodiments of what it means to live as Jesus teaches us to live.
Now the very good thing when we renew these promises together is that we acknowledge that we can’t do it alone. We need God to help us. The response to these unrealistic questions in the Baptismal Covenant is “I will, with God’s help.”
We need God to help us go the extra mile, to serve God in ALL people, to love and pray for those who seem to want to hurt us, and to turn the other cheek. And so we might see “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” as an invitation and not as a command that we’re doomed to disobey.
It’s an invitation to tap into God’s help, standing by all the time. It’s an invitation to go to the Source—to ask God for God’s strength, God’s wisdom, God’s sense of balance.
We’ll be praying that Logan will grow up to be grounded in God’s ways and that he’ll naturally turn to the Holy One each and every day for help and sustenance.
May we all do the same.