My husband and I were robbed on Saturday. It wasn’t our personal home, but one of our rental houses in Palm Springs. This was the second robbery at that property in a month. The first time they stole three brand new TVs. This time they took two of three TVs we had just purchased to replace the ones stolen. And we had renters staying at the property. The renters weren’t home when the thieves crow-barred open a glass sliding door (thank goodness). But they did have a lot of expensive handbags and electronics taken.
The police called and took a report. A neighbor said that she had seen a Winnebago parked suspiciously down the street. My first thought was to track down whoever did that and kill them or hurt them. I was angry. Frustrated that this happened again. Helpless.
In these situations, it’s easy to forget all about the teachings of Christ and just wallow in being “mad as hell”. But I can’t stop thinking about the words of Christ, to turn the other cheek. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not fight with the man who wants to fight. Whoever hits you on the right side of the face, turn so he can hit the other side also. If any person takes you to court to get your shirt, give him your coat also. Whoever makes you walk a short way, go with him twice as far. Give to any person who asks you for something. Do not say no to the man who wants to use something of yours.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
If I take this literally, how would I interpret this? The thief was only able to take two of the three TVs because one was bolted securely to the wall. (Something the police said is a good deterrent FYI). Should I take the TV that wasn’t stolen off the wall and leave it on the street? Is that what Jesus was telling us in his Sermon on the Mount?
I asked one of my friends and colleagues, Donna Carol Voss. She is an author, blogger and speaker on original thinking for 21st century living. www.donnacarolvoss.com She offered the following advice from her faith.
“The Mormon faith totally supports you hunting them down (just not killing them). We believe in Justice.
The turning the other cheek thing is a fancy way of talking about forgiveness, and forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you. You never forget what happened, and forgiving them doesn’t mean you excuse them. It means only that you are freed from the prison of hate, anger, obsession that rules us when we don’t forgive.”
I like that she didn’t interpret the Scripture literally and tell me to unbolt the other TV and find that person in the Winnebago and give it to them. And I especially like her view on forgiveness. She interpreted these words in their figurative and not literal sense.
I researched this passage of Scripture further, and another explanation that resonated with me was from Wikipedia.
Jesus wasn’t changing the meaning of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” but restoring it to the original context. Jesus starts his statement with “you have heard it said”, which could mean that he was clarifying a misconception, as opposed to “it is written” which could be a reference to scripture. The common misconception seems to be that people were using Exodus 21:24-25 (the guidelines for a magistrate to punish convicted offenders) as a justification for personal vengeance. In this context, the command to “turn the other cheek” would not be a command to allow someone to beat or rob a person, but a command not to take vengeance.
This interpretation requires us to take a look at the context of the time period in which Jesus spoke and analyze what he said based on what was happening in his day.
Almost anyone would prefer either Donna’s figurative interpretation or the contextual interpretation of this passage of the Bible. I can’t imagine someone who would think that I should just give free TVs to anyone that breaks into my house. But there are many people that want to take over verses of the Bible and apply a literal interpretation.
When I think about literal interpretation, my mind goes to Justice Antonin Scalia who passed away this week. I thought that he was a “strict constructionist” of the U.S. Constitution, but I was wrong. The late Justice said that “no one ought to be” a strict constructionist. He was a believer in the original meaning theory. The view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.
Applying the logic of Justice Scalia, I can’t take the Bible verse that says to turn the other cheek and do just that. I need to put myself in the shoes of the person listening to Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. And in that context, I need to let things be as they are. Let the police do their job and get on with my life.
So today, I’ll be spending most of my time installing a security system to prevent this from happening again. And I’ll pray and ask for forgiveness in my heart. And as the Buddha and Christ taught, I’ll meditate and offer loving kindness to the person that stole my stuff. And I’ll think about what I can do to love my enemy. People steal because they need money. Probably for drugs but maybe for other things. This incident has prompted me to figure out what I can do in my community to help. Crime is a big problem. As is drug abuse. And I can take all that anger and let it fester in my heart. Or I can apply it to something greater. Something that will help not only me to heal, but maybe someone else. Maybe even the person that robbed me.