A Tunisian graduate whose attempted suicide set off violent protests over unemployment across the North Africa nation has died.Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, sold fruit and vegetables illegally in Sidi Bouzid because he could not find a job.
Last month he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight when police confiscated his produce because he did not have the necessary permit. (BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12120228)
It is a tragic story from Tunisia, one that quite literally sparked a major upheaval in the Middle East. He was reportedly slapped by a market's inspector, the latest episode in a long litany of abuse at the hands of others. For Mohammed it was the last straw, exacerbated, no doubt, by the fact that his abuser was a woman. The public slap had humiliated him!
I was thinking about this story as I prepared my sermon for Sunday last on Matthew chapter 5vs 38ff. We tend to see 'An eye for an eye' as a barbaric law of bloodshed, but it was a law mediated by judges to introduce mercy into a society that looked to retaliate in the face of wrong doing.
Jesus went even further. As Christians we are called by Him, not to limit our retaliation, but to turn away from it altogether. To slap someone on the right cheek would be to slap them with the back of your hand, it was a calculated insult. Jesus taught that we were to turn the other cheek. We are to reject retaliation. We might not all retaliate physically, but we do tend to dwell on the perfect rebuttal. The only problem is that our wisdom in forming such a rebuttal only seems to work an hour after we needed it to kick in!
These verses have been much in my mind as I have prayed about them and as I wrote the sermon. I have taken a little more time to reflect on because they have really challenged me. Living in a society dominated by rights at the cost of responsibility, we have much to learn from this passage.
Maybe you'll join me on reflecting on these verses and asking yourself how they might apply in your life and relationships.
Matthew 5:38-48 (New International Version, ©2010)38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This beautiful piece on mercy is from The Merchant of Venice, first performed in 1596 and published in 1600, when Portia speaks to Shylock in Act IV, Scene I.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.