In her book Story Time at the Altar, Christian educator, and author, Elaine Ward has penned a poignant story about the loneliness of choosing to fight. This is the story she tells.
“There once was a boy who was always fighting. If someone accidently touched him, he hit them with his fist. If someone called him a funny name, he kicked them. If someone laughed at him, he beat up on them. After a while, the others learned to fight back, and the boy came home lonely, with bruises and bad feelings.
One day someone asked, “Why do you want to fight?”
“To show I am stronger than anyone else!” The boy clenched his fists.
“Does that make you feel good?” asked the other, as he ran.
The boy asked himself, “Does fighting make me feel good? Of course, winning is good. But winning is lonely.”
The next time a child made a face at him, he began to beat up on him, and the voice said, “Turn the other cheek.” The boy turned his head the other way and continued hitting the other.
“No, silly, I mean if someone hits you on one cheek, turn the other, so he can hit that one, too.”
The boy was so surprised by such a silly suggestion; he stopped fighting long enough to laugh. The more he thought about it, the harder he laughed. He laughed so loud the others heard him and began to laugh. Soon everyone was laughing, and it felt so good to be laughing together that the boy laughed even longer.
“This is better than fighting!” he thought. Since that day, whenever anyone calls him a funny name, he laughs, remembering the silly, but wise advice someone gave him long ago.”
This week’s lectionary text from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 5:38-48) includes “silly” suggestions that Jesus made, such as “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” and “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” In the ancient world, such suggestions sounded silly. In our world, a world that upholds winning at all costs as the ultimate achievement, Jesus’ suggestions sound down right ludicrous.
Yet, as the boy in Ward’s story reveals, winning feels good in the moment, but, in the end, it is lonely. When we choose being right, being first, or being on top, we often choose it over relationships. The wisdom and truth of Jesus’ suggestion of “turning the other cheek” comes down to choosing to invest in the relationship. When we fight with one another, nothing good and fruitful emerges. Relationships wilt and perish in the darkness of discord and strife, whereas, our relationships will bloom and grow in the light of harmony and unity. “Turning the other cheek” means choosing love and grace over fighting.
I encourage you to think about this the next time you are tempted to pour your time and energies into battling others. What will really be gained? More importantly, what will be lost? Remember winning is good, but winning is also lonely!