Unless you do absolutely nothing with your life, at some point or another, people will lie about you, betray you, falsely accuse you, or cause you undeserved harm. This is because humans are very weak, and many cannot lift themselves up without putting others down, and some are just mean and evil. This has happened to me over and over again in my life. Shakespeare’s Hamlet wondered whether “to take arms against this sea of troubles” or fight those who hurt him. If a trained boxer is attacked in a bar by an overage, overweight, drunk, he can easily defeat him and leave him a battered and broken man, but what will the boxer have proved? That he is the better fighter? We knew that going in. Real strength is in not fighting and letting the drunk think that he won. In my family, we use the expression “beating up a drunk” to describe a meaningless and hollow victory. I could have attacked many of the people who have maligned me or lied about me, or done evil things to me, but what would I have won had I been victorious? I would have become just like the people who had smeared my good name. Nicolo Machiavelli in his book “The Prince” (the most famous book in the world about rising to power over the bodies of others) says most plainly, “If you have descended to the level of your opponents' tactics, then they have already won.” He’s right, of course. To publicly humiliate, embarrass, or expose the meanness of others does nothing to elevate yourself.
Most of the Sermon on the Mount is about turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, so it is very obvious what Christ thinks is the right response. It is hard for us mortals not to want to retaliate, but that is not the way of the Christian—at least not if you believe the Bible and the words of God incarnate in the flesh. There have been many great men and women who never indulged in this kind of revenge retaliation. People like Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, thousands of Christian martyrs, and at the top of the list—Jesus Christ himself. According to tradition, every single disciple went to their deaths praying for and forgiving those who killed them, following the example of Christ, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I am sure all of you know at least one person who always has to be right (perhaps you are even married to one)—and frequently isn’t. They are usually this way because they have very low self-esteem and to prove them wrong actually hurts them emotionally and does nothing to improve the way you feel about yourself. These days, with Google and the internet, it is fairly easy to prove people wrong, but what do you win? In the movie “Witness,” Harrison Ford plays a detective who is with some Amish young people on a trip into town. Some high school bullies make fun of the Amish young people and push an ice cream cone on the head of one. Harrison Ford’s character can’t stand it, and even though he is an adult trained in street fighting, he attacks the teen-age bully and beats him to a bloody pulp. As the bully is sitting against the wheel of the wagon with blood streaming from his wounds, Harrison Ford’s character is panting with his fists still clenched. At this point, the Amish youth with ice cream still in his hair, leans down to Harrison Ford and says, “Who won?” Think of that scene the next time you feel the need to “put someone in their place.” When I think of all of those who have falsely accused me or lied about me to hurt me, I am really not angry, all I feel is pity for those people and for the lives they lead. There will only be one judge of me and my behavior, and it won’t be any of them. It will be the one who I invited into my heart and to whom I promised to serve until I die. It will be the one who taught me to forgive and to love my enemies. There is an old saying in real estate that the three most important things are “location, location, location” and that is most true of where we spend eternity. We are here but for a brief time. We will be with God forever, if we have imitated Christ in our lives. Sobering thoughts, eh?