Year A Epiphany 7 Matthew 5 2011
Going the Second Mile
This passage illustrates something I bet most of you have never thought about before. One of the easiest things in the world to do is to become a Christian. It is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is confess you are a sinner, repent of your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and was raised from the dead, and surrender your life to Him as your Lord and Savior; and you become a Christian immediately and instantaneously. There is not an easier thing in the world than to become a Christian. But at the same time, one of the most difficult things in the world is to be a Christian, and you're going to see that illustrated this morning.
What Jesus says is totally antithetical to the typical attitude in America. Years ago there was a bumper sticker that became rather popular that simply said two words: "I Want." Now that tag would fit on just about every car in America. We live in the country of "I want." I want my rights; I want my happiness; I want my way; I want my money.
Rights are considered as American as apple pie. This is a country where citizens have rights. The best known part of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. I'm all for the right kind of rights, but today rights don't so much protect the innocent as they promote the guilty. If you're going to be a real Christian you're going to have to give up some rights.
Bill Walton learned that to play basketball for John Wooden you had to give up some rights. Coach Wooden had a rule against facial hair. If you played for him no facial hair was allowed. After a ten day break from school, Bill Walton came to practice wearing a beard. Coach Wooden walked up to him and said, "Bill, have you forgotten something?" Walton replied, "Coach, if you mean the beard, I think I should be allowed to wear it, it's my right."
Coach Wooden said, "Do you really believe in that?" He said, "Yes, I do, very much." Coach Wooden looked at him and said, "Bill, I have great respect for individuals who stand up for those things in which they believe. I really do. If you believe that is your right, I would die for your right to defend that right." Bill Walton said, "Thank you, Coach." Then Wooden said, "I just want you to know the team is really going to miss you."
We've all heard the expression, "Do your duty." Well, the Lord Jesus once again tells us something that no human would have ever thought of. He is going to tell us, "Do what is not your duty," and "Do more than your duty." That is going the second mile. What does this mean?
- Be Willing To Get Worse Than You Deserve
- Be Willing to Give More Than You Are Asked
- Be Willing to Go Farther Than You Are Required
- Be Willing To Grant All That Is Needed
"Your Honor:" Jesus' Honor Code of Turning the Other Cheek
*Cub Scouts declare, "On my honor as a Scout..."
*Soldiers pledge themselves to "Duty. Honor. Country."
*The fifth commandment (depending on how you count) says "Honor thy father and thy mother."
*Husbands and wives promise to "Love. Honor. Cherish."
A point of honor is a good thing. Honor points us beyond ourselves and our little orbits. Honor connects us to others. A shared sense of honor creates a common culture.
But when the wrong things become "honored," honor itself can turn ugly. Consider how in ancient Japanese culture the importance of maintaining one's "honor" sometimes led those who felt shamed by imperfect behavior to commit ritual suicide or hari-kiri. Death became the only way to "save face" and restore honor.
But there is an even worse dishonoring of honor that curdles in the air of its occurrence: "Honor Killing."
In October 2009 in Arizona a father raced his Jeep across a parking lot and plowed into his twenty year old daughter and another woman. While her companion survived, the daughter was killed. This was an "honor killing."
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let me summarize briefly: Iraqi born Faleh Almaleki sought out and killed his daughter Noor because he felt she had brought shame to his family. The US born Noor had left an arranged marriage to an Iraqi man, returned to her hometown in Arizona, and was living with the mother of her new boyfriend. While she still considered herself a Muslim, Noor wanted to live the life of an American girl. She wanted to wear Western clothes, work at an office, go to college.
Faleh, as the head of his family, felt Noor had dishonored him, their entire extended family clan, and Islam itself by her actions. In his eyes the only way the family honor could be restored was to kill her. "An Iraqi," he insisted, "is worth nothing without honor." Faleh later explained, "No one hates his daughter, but honor is precious, and nothing is better than honor, and we are a tribal society that can't change."
Official statistics admitted that at least 1261 known "honor killings" had occurred in 2006 (the most current statistics I could find). But in the rural communities of Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, no one would think of reporting such "family" incidents. Even when "honor killings" are made known, there is typically little or no punishment for the killer.
The British Pakistani historian Tariq Ali asks us to "Consider the following. A man dreams his wife has betrayed him. He wakes up and sees her lying next to him. In a fury he kills her. This really happened in Pakistan and the killer escaped punishment. If dreams are to be treated as justification for an honor killing, what woman is safe?" (London Review of Books, December 2008, 35).
Since "honor killings" involve restoring family honor, often the whole family is involved. In the case of Noor Almaleki, her mother, her brother, and her uncle, helped her father initially escape from the authorities (he was finally apprehended in London and is on trial now in Arizona). In Peshawar a woman seeking a divorce from an abusive husband was in a meeting with her attorney when her own mother rushed into the office with two armed men and had them shoot her daughter dead.
This is a human face of "honor."
When the concept of something as "honorable" as honor can become so completely obliterated by human pride and evil, it is time to "turn the other cheek." It is time we really listened to Jesus...