By Norris Burkes July 25, 2021
Today’s media can often seem like a name-blame-shame game with its frequent demand to have someone’s head on a platter, at least in a figurative way.
The language is not new. It recalls the literal beheading of John the Baptist in Mark 6: 14 – 29.
If it’s been a minute since you read the passage, John was Jesus’ cousin. He was also a popular prophet who publicly condemned King Herod for the despot’s illegal marriage to his brother’s wife.
As they say in my church, “The preacher stopped preaching and commenced to meddling.” So Herod threw the prophet in the clink.
Meanwhile, Herod hosted his birthday party where his stepdaughter, Salome, entertained him with a sultry dance. Stepdad was so pleased with her performance that he offered the girl anything she wanted.
After consultation with her mother, Salome demanded the Baptizer’s head on a platter. Request granted.
Gruesome yes, but the intention wasn’t much different from the phone call I received while serving as an Air Force chaplain at Patrick Air Force Base in 2002.
Before I could answer with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” the man launched into a story about a sergeant on our base who was “messing with” his wife.
“The UCMJ demands adulterers be prosecuted,” he said. “If the sergeant doesn’t see some brig time, I’m calling my congressman!”
I mentioned that chaplains don’t practice military law, but we were both aware that the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, specifies adultery as a court martial offense.
“I just now left a voice message for the sergeant’s commander,” he warned. The man definitely wanted the sergeant’s career decapitated.
I pressed further, asking the caller how his wife had met this man.
“They never actually met,” he said, “but they email each other.”
“So, you’re going to hurt the sergeant’s family for what he’s planning to do; not for what he’s actually done?”
“This home wrecker is going down!” he said as my receiver went dead.
I suspect my anonymous caller was a proponent of something I call, “The Moses Plan.” It’s a page from the book of Exodus that demands “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”
However, centuries after Moses suggested this ophthalmological/oral surgery, Jesus employed some skillful hyperbole to introduce his own plan:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.’’
I say, ‘hyperbole’ because if we took the advice literally, we’d all be giving our clothing away piece by piece and soon become a bunch of bruised nudists.
Jesus’ strategy does three things. First, it calls for us to re-examine our motives when seeking justice. Second, it removes the necessity of revenge by removing the power from the insult. But most important, it demands that we seek the power of love and forgiveness – which is a much higher level of justice than revenge.
The nuts and bolts of the plan can be difficult, but I’ve found practical advice in the writings of the apostle Paul who advised readers in Philippians 4:8-9 to find things in people that are “…noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst.The beautiful, not the ugly. Things to praise, not things to curse.”
After that phone call, I sat for a moment, hoping the man would call back with a more dispassionate tone. He didn’t.
On his end, I imagined him impatiently waiting for a return call from the interloper’s commander.
But, knowing that commander as a man who played no part in vengeful games, I can assure you that the angry caller waited a long time for a call that never came.
Column excerpted from Norris’s book “Thriving Beyond Surviving.” Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Contact Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.