After the events of this past week, especially these past few days, I am full of lots of emotions. I am speechless at the hatred and complete lack of respect people can have towards others. I am saddened by the evil, racial slurs, and finger pointing that takes on such a regular basis here in my own city. I was shocked after hearing the reports of the incident that occurred at Kroger just the night. The same Kroger that is a mere 2 minutes from house and was at just a day before. Then the next day reading of a shooting that took place in a Target parking lot…again I had one emotion. I was hurt.
I was hurt by how we can treat each other.
I was hurt by the violence and evil that often times eclipses the good in this world.
I was so hurt by all of these things. But I was also hurt by a lot of responses to these incidents.
I have read a lot of name calling, racial slurs, and hate filled comments about the entire incident.
I must be honest; I too struggled with an appropriate response.
Today is the Feast Day of Constance and her Companions, also known as the Martyrs of Memphis. In 1878, when the yellow fever epidemic struck, many priests, nuns, and doctors stuck around to tend to the sick and dying. In the face of this life threatening plague, they chose risk their lives and help those who could not help themselves. Today we honor them. The traditional Anglican prayer used to memorialize the Martyrs of Memphis is:
This prayer made me think a lot today. In light of these events, how would I respond and how I should I respond?
My immediate response I think would be anger. I would be so upset by what happened and would want an explanation and would probably want to retaliate.
Last Lent, I attended a sermon given by Marcus Borg. He broke down a section of Matthew. One verse he broke down was Matthew 5:39. This is the passage that tells you to turn the other cheek. You may be like me when you hear that…”If someone hits me there is no way I am going to turn my head and say ‘Hit me again!’”
Borg went on to explain that is not what he thinks Jesus meant either. The most important thing to do when interpreting these stories and parables in the Bible is context. He went on to explain the difference in their lifestyles back then. Here you have Jesus and his followers, who are Jewish, living in a Roman ruled empire. The Romans saw themselves as being above and better than Jesus and his followers. Back in those days, you did not punch people that were below you. Punching someone was only used when you were dealing with someone who was your equal. The way to hit someone who was lesser of a person was to backhand slap them…
Yea, I know this sounds weird but trust me.
In this passage, when Jesus says to turn the other cheek, in the words of Borg, it is not so that we are treated like doormats, but because if they were just struck, it would have been a backhanded slap. By turning the other cheek, the only way for the person to hit them again would be with a punch…which, even for just that moment, that person considered you an equal.
Something else that I have been reflecting on this week is a quote that Rabbi Micah Greenstein said in our Parish Hall Forum last December. “Do what you can, in the place you are, with what you have.” He said this in reference to doing outreach and mission work.
Especially in light of the events that have just occurred, I think it is fair to share that the city of Memphis could use a lot of work. What can we do about it?
On one hand, we may respond with anger, and hate, and wanting to retaliate…but that wouldn’t be right. Jesus does not say, ‘If someone strikes you, hit them back.’
But also if we use the Borg way of viewing this, we are not simply suppose sit there and allow it to happen.
If you look back a few versus before Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, there is another line, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38-39).
When Borg discussed this, he went back to the Greek text that was used and retranslated it. He explained how in Greek, there were two words that meant resist. One of them was to violently resist, or resist by fighting back while the other was to verbally resist or resist in spirit. In this passage, Jesus uses the former. So you can retranslate that passage to, “Do not violently resist…” This puts a new spin on the verse.
But still, what are we to do?
Do we leave?
I do not know the exact answer, but these stories do help me think through these things a little better.
This city needs help. As a proud Memphian and someone who is tired of seeing my city on the news for the negative things, I do not simply want to leave. Like Sister Constance and her companions refused to leave and instead chose to stay where the problem was, and do what they could to help.
Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.