“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
Last Friday night I attended our local high school football game. I’m far from a football fanatic, but Ryan plays on our varsity squad, which means that Tonya and I need to be at the games. We’ve become experts at the whole scene, but this past Friday I saw something that I’d never seen before: the visiting varsity players using the public restroom during halftime.
It all started when the scoreboard buzzer sounded to end the first half. As soon as that happened, I noticed that the visiting team didn’t run off toward our visiting locker room the way teams normally do. Instead they headed down toward one corner of an end zone, the way youth league teams do during halftime of their Saturday games.
I thought that was odd, but I figured that their coaches were just going to give them a brief pep talk and then lead them through an extended time of halftime stretching or going over some play formations. Since the team was in the lead and had played a pretty good first half, maybe their coaches didn’t require the confines of the walls of a locker room to chew them out over poor play.
So I put the matter out of mind and headed for the public restrooms. Like a lot of men, I usually take a bathroom break during halftime. But when I opened the door to the Men’s room it didn’t take me long to see that there was a long line of guys waiting. That wasn’t so strange, but the odd thing was that it was some of the players from the visiting team who had the line backed up. There they were, waiting their turn in line, still wearing their uniforms, amongst the ranks of enemy fans. What in the world was going on? Was there some problem with our visiting locker room? Were the toilets not working in there? Had a pipe burst and flooded the place? This inquiring mind wanted to know.
It wasn’t until after the game that I got my answer. According to Ryan, our j.v. team had traveled to that visiting school to play a game the night before and hadn’t been granted access to the visitor’s locker room. Our players had been forced to get dressed in the gym, a fact that didn’t go over too well with our varsity coaches. So those coaches decided to get even the following night when that school’s varsity team came to visit our school. They did so by making those players dress in our gym.
Now, I don’t even pretend to know why our j.v. team didn’t get a locker room. Perhaps it was an oversight or perhaps it was intentional. I won’t speculate. If it was intentional, there’s no defense or excuse for it. Enough said about that. But what I do know is that no matter how wrongly our j.v. team was treated, the Christian way is not “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” That’s the point that I made with Ryan during our conversation after the game.
I’d like to say that my beloved eldest son had a real problem with the way our coaches had handled the situation, but that would be a lie. When he saw the visiting team’s bus struggling to work through the traffic after the game and get backed up toward our gym, he thought it was funny. He was laughing as he explained the whole story to me. I guess he figured that all is fair in love and football.
That’s why I had to raise my voice a touch and explain to him how authentic Christianity gets fleshed out in such real-world situations. Apparently the 75 sermons he’d heard from me over the years hadn’t done the trick. I said, “Son, no matter how badly someone treats you, if you are a true Christian you can’t get down there in the mud with them and start slinging. Jesus expects us to take the higher road and be the bigger person.” I let the lecture go at that, but hindsight being 20/20 I should have also explained that Jesus expects us to love our enemies and pray for those who do us wrong (Matthew 5:43-44). Ryan’s heard a few sermons on those subjects too, but I fear they took about as well as those on turning the other cheek.
Of course, the main problem in all of this is the fact that not everybody is a Christian. Let’s face it, it’s futile to expect lost people to live out the values and principles of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. That’s like asking a zebra to change its stripes. Am I saying that all of the football coaches of the staffs of both of the schools are lost? No, I have no doubts that some of them are born-again Christians. What I’m saying is that a very, very bad example was set for a lot of highly impressionable young men over the course of this past Thursday night and Friday night. I’m old fashioned enough to believe that any coach should be a good role model to his or her players. You can agree or disagree with me on that. That’s your choice. But if you are a Christian you’ll have to agree with me that Jesus taught that His people should turn the other cheek rather than get even. And was that a word exclusively for the ancient world of the Roman empire? Hardly. It’s one that applies to today’s high school football games as well.