An awkward experience in a Bangkok hotel during my early days here has become a valuable lesson on my personal journey to become a better person, to “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”.
Upset with the service at the cafe, I launched into a verbal tirade at the server to the discomfort of my Thai guests. Such public display of annoyance is socially ungraceful and it goes totally against how these culturally gentle Thais will treat a fellow person. Refusing to lie down despite the apology from the server, I continued to bark. The manager, and then the chef, came to apologise to soothe this ego that was getting embarrassing, unknowingly then for myself. I refused their apology wanting my points to hit home. “If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well”. I was offered the other cheek and I hit it as well.
Later, unnecessarily, the general manager invited me to lunch. “And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him”. This episode has been a valuable lesson. I have learned by being “a wicked man” and was met with the response to “love your enemies”.
Many of us want to be good, we desire to be holy. We know that our earthly life in actually the opportunity to journey towards spiritual perfection to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect”. But this call to turn the other cheek and to love your enemy seem foolish to the ways of the world we know. To embark on the journey to walk the extra mile is simply too difficult that we give up before we even try.
Our sight is limited by the culture of this world, our eye of wisdom closed. We cannot see beyond a mile, our vision obstructed by the clutter in our life. Yet where do we expect to encounter spiritual wisdom “because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God”?
We are invited today to walk in the opposite direction. The journey towards perfection begins by walking the extra mile for the other person, not just one we know but everyone who we meet along the way. Often a stranger comes into our life, maybe the first impression isn’t very good, but it is in this neighbour in whom God leads us into wisdom.
It is where confrontation meet gentleness, where conflict meet peace that we will encounter God. It is in the giving of our self to the neighbour that we align ourselves to the nature of God and journey into the spirit of perfection. It is when we turn the other cheek that we come face to face with God. We are invited into this presence of God.
On the other cheek we press against the culture of God and look at wisdom. And along the extra mile, “He must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise”. Two miles we go, one an extra that will make us good and holy.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time