I try to avoid going to the doctor. I do this mostly by staying healthy, but even when I’m not I’d rather sweat it out and endure all pain and suffering than visit the doctor’s office and have him tell me something I already know.
The thing I dislike the most about medical examinations is all the poking.
Doctor: “Does this hurt?” — Gouge!
Doctor: “That’s normal… how about this?” — Gouge!
Stop it! Why do they have to do that? I’m not the Pillsbury Doughboy. I don’t like being poked.
Today’s Gospel is a poker. I imagine it poked Jesus’ listeners at the Sermon on the Mount just as much, if not more so, than it pokes at us today.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
When I read this Gospel passage earlier this week, I winced internally. It was during a group Gospel reflection I attend on Wednesdays. While reflecting on the words, I wasn’t coming up with insightful things to say. I was thinking to myself, Man, I’ve got a lot to work on! I was poked by the Gospel.
Sometimes Jesus pokes, like a doctor. Sure, he knows what hurts and where it hurts, even how it hurts. And he still pokes. It isn’t the pain he’s after. He’s not simply nudging at the uncomfortable symptoms, but prodding the soul to get at the root cause our sins; not merely the sins themselves but even deeper, to uncover our vices, and bring them to our attention.
The way the poking hurts — exactly how it makes us uncomfortable — depends on the type of person you are. For instance, how do these words make you feel, exactly?
“When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.”
If it makes you feel particularly tense in the shoulders and face, maybe your root problem is pride. Or it could be anger. Or maybe turning the other cheek when insulted or literally slapped in the face comes to you by nature — second nature, perhaps, it’s something you’ve worked on. If so, you’re a virtuous person!
When Jesus says:
“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.”
I don’t know about you, but I am just not all that inclined toward giving the shirt of my back to someone who is trying to sue me. Do I feel this way because I cling to what I already have or because I don’t want my adversary to have more than me (does greed or envy have anything to do with it?). Or rather, could it be because my personal sense of justice still trumps this one part of Gospel teaching? (Where else might I have a problem with Gospel teaching — have I examined it deeply enough — and more importantly why is it a problem for me?).
When I read this phrase:
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.
What is my attitude? Do I slump my shoulders, grumbling internally “I’ve already done my duty — get off my back!”? Do just want to get back to taking it easy again. Or do I get all gung-ho and gear-up for the long haul? If the latter, applies to you, you’re a real trouper! I can’t say that’s how I feel when someone forces me to do something I don’t want to do.
A lot of people take this Gospel passage the wrong way. Jesus is not asking us to be pushovers and let people walk all over us. He is asking us to be more like him. Anyone who reads the Gospels can easily see that Jesus was no wimp. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to people, and when he did, he was always virtuous.
There are times when we really want to put others in their place, and there are times when people need to be put in their place. Jesus Christ could stop people in their tracks and even stun people with his words and behavior. Even in this regard, he calls us all to be like him. He says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
Does this sound like a contradiction? If it does, I think there are two reasons why it does. The first is our fallen nature, which Christ came to redeem. The second is our culture (which he came to redeem also). Although Christianity has imbued society with many virtues and values, our culture does not value, teach, or even understand humility. On the contrary, it disregards it.
Speaking for myself, I did not even realize humility was a virtue until I was in my 20s, and I was raised in a Christian home!
When I found this out, did I suddenly become humble? No. In fact, and perhaps not to anyone’s surprise, I have yet to see mountains of success in this area of my life, but I am still working on it. When I think I might have finally achieved a substantial amount of humility, the Gospel pokes — Gouge! — right where it hurts.
When the Gospel pokes, as it often does, it is a reminder that we need to look deeper into ourselves, because something in there probably needs resolving — if we want to be more like Christ. Christ is the doctor: he is the skilled examiner and the one who can cure us, if we allow him. One of the best ways to overcome our selfish selves is meditating on his words in the Gospel, and letting them sink in deep. That is, letting the Lord work within us in order to build us up and sanctify us.
So I’ve got a sore spot, somewhere under my ribs, from reading this Gospel (somehow, I think even St Paul can relate to that). I take this to mean God is letting me know — and I should thank him for this — I’ve still got a ways to go. Don’t we all?