During a time when political, racial and religious polarization seem to be on the uptick in the U.S., I am reminded of Jesus' admonition that we "turn the other cheek" when we are wronged or hurt. I think that includes the times when we are spoken against or called out for beliefs. So, the question that often follows that admonition from Jesus is this: Is there any wiggle room there? Do I have to forgive someone who, for one reason or another, hurts or defames me? I struggle with this one all of the time, because some have said that Jesus created an impossible ethic with some of his demands, including this one. We much prefer the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" of the Old Testament because there seems to be room for payback in that one. Actually, no, there is not. The "eye for an eye" ethic was created to set up a framework for financial compensation to cover a loss caused by one person against another. It was never about retribution or to justify killing. So, we have to live with the "turn the other cheek" command, if we want to claim to follow Christ. When one looks at the wide disparity of claims as to what defines a Christian in America, it seems apparent that some have chosen to codify the "eye for an eye" mentality, while others, a seemingly smaller group, to be sure, have embraced the "turn the other cheek" way of thinking. So a question arises: which one of these responses is more true to the Christian faith? The answer to that question depends on how each individual interprets Jesus' teachings, and how binding one finds them to be on his or her own life. Few of us can claim to follow Christ perfectly, and He made provision for that in his ultimate sacrifice. Still, can we claim to follow Jesus if we are tinkering constantly with the Gospel, trying to make it more palatable, so that we need to sacrifice and forgive less? I think that is a question with which each one of us must struggle, maybe for a lifetime. What troubles me is how many folks I have met, or have read about, who claim to follow Jesus while showing little evidence of struggle at all. The Gospel has been made subservient to culture by some, and has been used to legitimate the political and power structures that already exist. It's relatively painless. Say you accept Jesus, bang, you're in! This is not a new problem, to be sure. But I think it remains a potentially fatal one for the faith, and for the possibilities of transformation for which we should be praying, and working.
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