“Turning The Other Cheek” – 04-13-14 – Palm Sunday – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture – Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus practiced what he preached. He had said, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek.” [Luke 6:29] Here was Jesus allowing himself to ride through this awful pageant, this pageant of passion. This drama that was directed by the Father with Jesus as the main character.

Here Jesus was not only offering both cheeks, but his whole body; his total life is on the line or rather on the cross. Mercifully, Jesus died more quickly than is usual for persons whose life ends on a cross. At least we see some mercy here by the Father for the Son.

Did Jesus receive other mercy in his role as God on earth? Interesting question, don’t you think? I am thinking of the time of testing through which Jesus passed, being tested by Satan, directly after the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus passed all three parts of that test, the Father sent angels to minister to Jesus. I have wondered how the angels ministered. I picture the person who comes with towels and water at the end of a physical contest of one sort or another. Would the angels have brought food and water and towels? How about comfort for his soul having endured the testing in the wilderness – not a pleasant place?

The character Job, in the Old Testament, was tormented beyond belief although not hanging on a cross. Job was proud. He had lived an exemplary life – a life with no fault or so he thought – and Job boasted about how good he was. But here Jesus is the opposite of proud. Let us once again rest in the words from Philippians 2:5-11 about the humility of Jesus. This is the CEV of the Bible:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And how about that donkey on the way to the cross? Yes, Jesus, a fully grown man, sitting on a donkey, which full grown would barely allow Jesus’ feet to clear the ground, is a surprise because the people were expecting to see an anointed king. A horse would have been a more appropriate transport for the king the crowd was expecting. Instead, they are honoring this person, feet probably dragging, who is making this strange entrance into the city of Jerusalem.

That passage from Luke, which exhorts us to turn the other cheek, includes the idea of giving a second garment if someone takes one garment while we are wearing it. The CEV reads, “If someone wants to take your coat, don’t try to keep back your shirt.” Do you remember that before Jesus was hung on the cross he was expected to remove his garments? Do you remember what was done to his clothing while he hung on the cross? In Luke 23:35, we read about the soldiers gambling for the clothes of Jesus. John 19:23-24 elaborates more on this section of the crucifixion. It reads in the CEV:

After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. The soldiers said to each other. “Let’s not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it. This happened so that the Scriptures, Psalm 22:18, would come true, which say, “They divided up my clothes and gambled for my garments.”

So much for clothing. At the end, how much does clothing count? Will there be a nice outfit for our own “viewing” if we choose a traditional burial. Maybe clothes make the person in our careers. Maybe clothes give us a false sense of worth or do they give us self-confidence that is important if we are to do the best job possible?

Well, we know what Jesus said, “If someone wants one of our garments, also give another.” Some of us would barely miss two garments. Then again, I know people who would be coatless in freezing weather if someone wanted his or her coat. No extra coats in poverty. I am picturing my closets – plural – jam-packed. And yet I have a yearning to buy more so I will look nice enough to be considered to be capable.

Jesus did not seem to care about clothing. Can we trust the drawings of Jesus’ clothing? Do you think they could have been frayed? Do you find it interesting that they were good enough or valuable enough for the soldiers to want them? Do you think the soldiers wanted the few pieces of clothing to wear or to display or to sell? I am surprised that there were four soldiers and they divided the clothes of Jesus into four parts. I expected that there were maybe three garments at the most. These are details.

Most importantly to you and me today is the idea that in the end clothes are not what it is all about. God will not judge us by how many and how beautiful are our clothes. In the end, God will judge us by the depth of our humility. Did we turn the other cheek? Did we give our still-good clothing to people who had none?

It is possible that every single action and word during the original week we call holy, had a significance for our own lives today. It would be interesting to read the passion story with this perspective – thinking how does this drama pertain to me? The clothing idea is one of probably many. Instead of taking the passion story – usually thought to be from Palm Sunday through the entrance to death, the act of death, the miracle of resurrection – at face value, let us stand in the scenes from this time and age and look at ourselves.

Could we get anywhere close to acting as Jesus acted? What about today, in today’s society with all its pressures? Where is our confidence placed? In ourselves, or in the Father as Jesus did. Do we have stomach ulcers from the pressure? How about headaches? Anywhere close to the pain of the thorn of crowns?

When we have an opportunity, are we boasting about how we do things, or how well we have done in a test, or how elegant is our home? Where is our humility? How much criticism can we absorb? Do negative comments about our work or about ourselves send us into a tizzy? Have we mastered turning the other cheek? Have we made a tiny bit of progress toward this goal or can’t we make ourselves accept the goal. After all, we can’t let ourselves be lessened. We need to keep appearances. We need to keep our jobs. We need to maintain some dignity, some proof of our given abilities, including intelligence.

Ouch, is that you? Are we proud of the gifts which came from God? Proud? Think about it. Many of us claim the titles we have earned. But then, our friend or relative earns a higher title and the race is on. The pressure is on. Did Jesus on his way into Jerusalem, standing in front of the donkey, feel pressure? Was his head hurting just thinking about getting through his very own holy week? I am guessing that Jesus did not think of it as Holy Week because he was simply going from episode to episode with no idea of how long this would take. He was the willing slave, waiting to see what high level challenge would be laid upon him.

We have the four gospels in the Bible to tell us what happened 2000 plus years after it happened. Are we treating this powerful story just as a story or are we living the story, are we receiving this story as if we were one of the soldiers or Mary the mother or Jesus the main character ourselves. How about Pilate? What does the Pilate character have to say to us today? When we are caught in the middle of a situation, do we try to wash our hands as did Pilate? But when the final decision needs to be made, can we live with it the rest of our lives. Can we face God after making a poor decision?

Wait a minute? Why did Jesus die on the cross? So we could be forgiven, to open the path between ourselves and God. That is why Jesus had this awful holy week. He was given the privilege of returning to the Father in the heavenly kingdom. Thereby we are able to go to the heavenly kingdom when we are called. Meanwhile we have this earthly realm where salvation is repeated to us daily. Each day forgiveness dangles from the sky, from God. It is the gift of Jesus and his own Holy Week. It is our choice to turn the other cheek in humility or to keep our prideful demeanor and miss the opportunity.

Holy, Gracious, Loving God, thank you for this gift of forgiveness and mercy. Do help us to accept your grace, to turn the other cheek, to walk in the light in true humility. Amen