Payback Is Foolish

I am not a pacifist. I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord taught his us to “turn the other cheek,” and that’s more than a metaphor for being nice. It represents a way of life. Love people, even your enemies, and trust God as your loving Father to protect and reward you. Trouble is, we don’t really follow Jesus. Oh, we say we do, but when it comes to the hard stuff we don’t really. And that’s why the world is unimpressed with Christians, so much so that they’re turning away in droves.

Let’s look at this idea of turning the other cheek and apply it to a recent sports incident, or series of incidents. So, apparently, there’s “bad blood” between the Texas Rangers baseball club, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Near as I can tell this is the result of an arrogant Toronto player named Jose Bautista who performed an infamous “bat flip” last season during a playoff game with the Rangers. Nobody was injured, well, not physically injured, but Rangers pride was evidently hurt by this example of arrogance. So, fast forward to the current season, seventh game of a seven game series. A Rangers pitcher (Matt Bush) appears to intentionally throw inside to hit Bautista with a 96 mph fastball. Presumably this is payback for Bautista’s unforgivable bat flip. Bautista didn’t wait until next season to deliver his version of payback; he slid hard into second, and past the bag in order to hit the Ranger second baseman Rougned Odor. Now payback is applied immediately upon the offense, and to the offender. Odor throws a right cross and nearly decks Bautista. Texas and Toronto benches clear, players run onto the field ready to fight (or stop the other guys from it). Foolishness. Turning the other cheek, at any point, would have stopped this series of events, which may well continue to play out at a later time.

If the Rangers had been more secure as a ball club last season they wouldn’t have allowed the arrogant celebration of one player to affect them so. If the Rangers leadership (players or coaching staff) was wise, they would have let this go and ensured that lesser players wouldn’t retaliate (such as the pitcher who hit Bautista, during only his second major league game). You want to get back at Toronto? Beat them fair and square.

Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek is not a rule against self-defense; it is teaching us not to seek revenge. A slap in the face is an insult. That was the case in Jesus’ day; it is still the case today. If someone hits me and then stops, I have no need to hit them back. They are seeking to offend me, to demean me, to hurt my pride. What if I have no pride to hurt? What if I am so secure in my identity that a slap in the face from someone cannot diminish me or alter my self-worth in any way? What if I have inner strength that keeps me from being concerned about the opinion of the crowd around me? THAT is what a genuine follower of Jesus possesses.

So, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. The Apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament Law when he taught against seeking payback. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, see also Deuteronomy 32:25). The wisdom book of Proverbs speaks to this too. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (20:22). So, Christians have no business seeking payback.

Ah, but I can hear some of you say, “We can’t expect those Rangers players to live like Christians!” Perhaps not, but I CAN expect YOU who claim to be Christians to refrain from supporting or promoting revenge, violence and poor sportsmanship. My timeline on Facebook is FULL of pictures of Odor clocking Bautista (I took the pic with this blogpost from one of them). If you watched the video, Odor was ready to keep hitting him. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT IS RIGHT? Is it self-defense? No, it is not. It is a man saying, “You hurt me, I’m going to hurt you back.” In fact, it is a man doing exactly what the Old Testament principle of eye for eye and tooth for tooth was intended to PREVENT: injustice. That’s the trouble with vengeance. It is rarely just and it never ends. In fact, it escalates. That’s how wars start. World War I began as a murderous offense, and escalated until 65 million people were dead. This may be multiplied further if the unfair treatment of the German people after World War I is taken into consideration as a motivation for their willingness to follow Hitler into World War II.

I believe we have the right, indeed the responsibility, to protect ourselves and our families from serious harm. If, instead of a “bat flip” a baseball player went after another in an attempt to do more than hurt his feelings, then I would uphold the other’s right to stop the offender. That doesn’t mean kill or destroy or seriously injure the offender. I taught martial arts for many years, and I always led my students to cause the minimal amount of damage necessary to the opponent to stop or escape a fight. I believe that is what Jesus would do. If you follow Jesus, I believe that is what you must do. However, I assure you, payback is not a Christian’s response to offense or harm.

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