Fighting Forward

Read Lamentations 3:27-36

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too” (Matthew 5:38-40 NLT).

Sam Obisanya was having a bad day, and extremely bad day. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sam, he is one of the footballers on the fictional English Premier Football team, AFC Richmond, on the Apple TV+ original show, Ted Lasso. This show has become one of my favorite shows and is now on it’s third season. I highly recommend it, though not for children as it does have language and mature themes throughout. Also, while I am not spoiling the whole episode, I will be discussing one scene in it, so if you are watching the show and haven’t seen Episode 7 of Season 3, I would recommend watching it first so as not to spoil this moment for you.

Back to Sam Obisanya. He is a soccer player from Nigeria and comes from a family that is very socially conscious. Why? Because in Nigeria people feel the weight of colonialism and the footprint of the West on them. As such, Sam is not afraid to speak out on social issues in order to do what he believes is right. Enter into the story fictional U.K. Home Security Minister, Brinda Barot. She is standing front and center on the television telling migrant refugees in a boat that they should go home and that she won’t permit them in England. Or at least that’s the gist of it.

Sam believed that he could at least appeal to her “better angels” through a tweet mildly and lovingly callinger her to have a little more compassion to people in need. Well, as is almost always the case with politicians on Twitter, she shot back and tweeted: “Footballers should leave the politics to us and just shut up and dribble.” This quote is actually a real quote from a host on an American conservative news channel who said that people like LeBron James and others should stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” So Ted Lasso is pulling from real-life situations, which is what makes this show so relevant and important.

Again, back to Sam. As these things often do on social media, the tweets escalated back and forth. That’s where the tragedy occurs. This is what makes Sam’s day so bad. He went at night, after his football game, to the Nigerian Restaurant he opened up to share Nigerian cuisine with the U.K. and give the British Nigerians a little taste of home. He named the restaurant, Ola’s, after is father. When got to the door, Sam found it smashed in. The restaurant inside completely destroyed, with the words, “Shut up and dribble”, spray painted across one of the walls. Sam was shattered.

The next day, as he was gearing up to practice, he had an angry outburst because he feels unwelcome in the U.K. and he knows people like Brinda Barot want to ship him and other immigrants right back to where they came from. His team members were confused because they didn’t at first know about his restaurant, but they all were there to listen and comfort him. Also, at the same time, his dad showed up for his planned visit to see his son, watch him play, and eat a meal at Ola’s, which obviously was no longer going to be able to happen.

His father gave him a big hug and sat down with him. Sam was sharing with him that he didn’t think he was going to reopen the restaurant just to see it destroyed again. His father countered him and told him he NEEDED to reopen it, not just for himself, but for his staff and for other Nigerian immigrants who would like a taste of home. Then his father told him this, “If you really want to piss them off, forgive them. No big deal. Just forgive them, like it’s no big deal. Don’t fight back Sam, fight forward.”

Now, I won’t share what happens from there; however, those words really stuck with me and they reminded me of the same thing Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 5:38-40 NLT), “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too”. Believe it or not, Jesus was talking not about fighting back, but fighting forward. This takes forgiveness and fortitude and faith, but it is the only way in which we end the cycle of destruction that we humans are so hellbent on carrying out against each other.

Turning the other cheek and giving people more than they want to sue from you is not giving up or taking the cowards way out. It is not a sign of weakness, either. It is quite the opposite. Walter Wink, in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, interprets the passage as a way to be subversive to the power structures of the time. In ancient Judea, one asserted their authority and dominance by backhand striking a person on their right cheek with their right hand. If that person then turned their left cheek to be struck, the person with the higher social status had a problem. The left hand couldn’t be used to strike because it was used for unclean purposes; however, if one open-palm slapped someone on the opposite cheek, it would be seen as a challenge to a fight placing the other person at equal status.

Jesus, in calling people to turn the other cheek, was directing them to FIGHT FORWARD, publicly calling out the injustice by turning the other cheek rather than fighting back in retaliation. The same thing is true regarding giving one’s shirt too when one is being sued for their coat. Going over and above publicly displays that what is being done is an injustice.

Friends, we are called to fighting forward, not fighting back. It is so easy to get up in arms when we feel threatened or attacked; however, that does nothing to change the world. Let us be a people who follow Christ’s way, not the world’s, so that we can be public displays of justice, peace, and love as well as agents of hope, healing, and wholeness. This is the Christian way.

“Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.” – William Shakespeare

Lord, help me to have the strength and courage to fight forward and forgive. Amen.

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