“Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” So said former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. I wonder if part of what made this so offensive was that we know it’s true. We just don’t want to be reminded that life is not easy and that it may never be easy.
Life has trouble and struggles. We will encounter people who will wrong us, hurt us and oppose us. It is a human problem. In fact, as Jesus prepared His followers for life with Him, rather than promising a life free of challenges, said things like:
John 16: 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 15: 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
Matthew 5: 11-12 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus is not saying all our problems go away when we follow Him, in fact, He seems to be saying, there are a whole new set of challenges that may come our way because of Him.
We will have trouble….
We will be hated…
We will be insulted…slandered… persecuted…. because of Jesus.
Understanding this raises the question of, is there a way which followers of Jesus are to engage trouble, difficulty, or opposition when it comes?
In Matthew 5 Jesus gives the simple instruction not to resits the evil person (Matthew 5: 39a). The nuance of this was, do not repay their evil with evil or their violence with more violence. Yet, neither is Jesus advocating we just accept violence or injustice and do nothing.
In a series of examples which the original hearers would have been familiar with, Jesus invites His followers to respond to injustice, hurt or opposition in a way that exposes the evil in the actions of the other, and also to offer them another choice. Another way of living. One of the more striking examples, was to turn the cheek when someone slaps you (sorry about the pun).
Matthew 5: 39b If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
To slap someone on the right cheek would have been a backhanded slap (no one in that culture at that time would dare hit anyone with the left hand), and it was intended to insult rather than injure. It was a way of asserting power, and putting an inferior in their place. Jesus’ advises us not to hit back, nor to simply accept this, but to turn the other cheek. In doing so, the person striking now has two options in response. One is to hit again, and in this case it would have to be with an open right hand. This is the way you would strike an equal. So the one being hit is saying, “if you want to hit me again, then you will have to hit me as a human, an equal, not as a thing.” The second option available was to not hit again. To recognise that this should never have happened in the first place, and choose not to continue in such behaviour.
This is the brilliance of the teaching of Jesus. He invites us to take a posture with our life, which exposes the injustice of a system that allows those in power to objectify and mistreat those below, whilst inviting the other to rethink their behaviour and acknowledge the humanity another. Irrespective of their social standing.
How does Jesus invite us to deal with opposition? Don’t repay kind for kind, do not accept evil or injustice, but make the courageous choice to expose the wrong and offer the one engaged in such behaviour an alternative way to live. A life informed and directed by Jesus.