Today’s Gospel reading in the Catholic lectionary is from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6, verses 27-38. It’s the rather well-known passage about loving our enemies and it’s definitely timely. Probably because it’s a timeless theme. I have written on this theme before. If you’d like to read my thoughts on that, here you go! On Loving My Enemies: I just can’t do it.
But today I want to talk about a TV show I’ve been watching that touches on the idea of passive resistance. Jesus addresses this, also, in today’s Scripture passage when He speaks of turning the other cheek if someone should strike you. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both adopted this type of resistance when they were fighting injustice in their cultures. The way of domination and oppression is a way of destruction and punishment. The way of peace is one of constructive dialogue and of mercy.
I was reminded of this while watching Cobra Kai, the series based on The Karate Kid movie of the 1980’s. It’s very entertaining and I have really enjoyed the story lines and the actors involved. But the plot is not so much a ‘good vs. evil’ idea as a way of peace – within and with those around you versus a way of chaos – pain within and then inflicted on those around you.
There a lot of examples I could mention, but I will just focus on one student in the show, Hawk. That’s not his real name, but he’s a kid who was a “nerd,” picked on by bullies and pretty much anyone because he was born with a cleft palate and had surgery to correct it that leaves him scarred. It has caused him to be quite withdrawn and fearful. He knows from experience that, at any moment, someone is bound to call him a name, or physically abuse him. He does have a couple of outcast friends, but they are as withdrawn and fearful as he is. It’s not a happy existence. Then he discovers Cobra Kai’s version of karate and his life changes.
After being verbally abused and belittled by the sensei, a bully in his own right, Hawk walks out in tears. But he returns with a mohawk, a change of wardrobe, and a startling change of attitude. But it is not to his or anyone else’s benefit. He “flips the script” as his sensei has suggested and becomes a bully himself once he learns some karate and to channel all of his rage, from being the victim for so many years, toward others.
It got me to thinking that the character, Hawk, is what a lot of young people currently rioting on the streets of some of our cities are like. They exhibit so much anger after years of being perhaps ignored or bullied, but certainly not treated with the dignity they possess as children of God, and not having learned that others should be treated the same way. Now they have found power through intimidation. Now they can retaliate with seeming impunity in too many cases. In the tradition of Cobra Kai, they show no mercy toward those who are not able to defend themselves. That kid, Hawk, is hurting and lost. So much rage and he doesn’t know what to do with it so he lashes out. The show is such an interesting allegory for our time – the Cobra Kai dojo vs. Miyagi do. The way of power and intimidation versus the way of peace and mercy…
And so we do, indeed, need to pray, as Jesus directs us to do. And we need to see that Jesus, as our Leader, our perfect Servant Leader, shows us the way. It is humbling, some might even say humiliating, to follow in the Lord’s steps. Because those steps lead to Calvary. But that’s not the end of the story. From Calvary and certain death, we rise to new life with the Lord. But maybe, just maybe, our lack of exhibiting the “eye for an eye” behavior will lead others to examine themselves and their destructive ways. Their actions destroy property, lives, relationships, communities, civil society. Why is that how anyone would want to live? And yet, because it gives them a feeling of confidence they’ve never felt before, and it engenders fear in those they attack or harass, it makes them feel secure and have a sense of pride. If they can’t get the respect they deserve and desire, then they will make others feel ‘less than’.
But “retributive revolutionary violence”* is never going to make the world a better place. This Jesus plainly is saying in today’s Gospel passage. We must ask God for a heart like His. In fact, we must ask for Jesus to love through us so we can pray for and love those who persecute us, or who hate us, or both. We must recall that we are never alone in any situation, that God is with us. And when we doubt that turning the other cheek or praying for those who wish to harm us is the right thing or that it will produce any good fruit, look to Jesus again. Look to the God-man nailed to a cross for our sake and responding with, “Father, forgive them…”
I could say it’s not easy, but I can also say it can be joyful. Sound impossible? Well, of course, nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37) But also, when we know we are doing the Father’s will, it should bring us true joy. And, ultimately, we need to remember that Jesus said we will have troubles in this life. But He will be with us and that Jesus has “overcome the world.” This is not the end. There is a beautiful eternity with the Lord where every evil, every bad thing that’s ever happened to us, will no longer be even a distant memory for us. Have faith; believe it.
Some of you may argue that Daniel Larusso, the protagonist in Cobra Kai, does not display any belief in God and that’s true. But those who are doing good things and striving for the good are ultimately seeking God, though they may not know it. For God is goodness itself so anything that is good is of God. Though Danny is a flawed character, who struggles with anger and an inability to forgive sins of the past, he is often shown to be trying. If he had God in his life, perhaps he would be able to forgive more easily and to let go without regret or hard feelings. That’s often how it works in real life. But even Christians or other believers will struggle with temptation and sin because we are human after all…But we have to cling to our merciful Lord and get up and try again.
Here is the link to a song about the Cross and forgiveness from Matt Maher below. We can experience Heaven on Earth with the grace of God, bringing love and peace to everyone we meet. And we can and should pray for that peace within us and for those around us – the true peace that only Christ can bring. But we can also remember that we are not Home yet. So cling to that. Turn to God if you don’t have a relationship with Him now. Open your heart to receive God’s grace and His infinite mercy. It is so much better than any earthly, fleeting good we can imagine or experience.
May we surrender to the love and mercy God has for us all. And remember to contemplate the cross where Jesus laid it all on the line for our sakes. He loves each of us that much.