The Higher Road

Scripture: 5:38-48
Title: “The Higher Road”
Preached: Pioneer/FPC – 2/19/17

In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost wrote:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;         5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,         10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.         15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.         20


In our passage today, Jesus offers us an alternative pathway for he says:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;  (Matthew 5:38-45)

Like Robert Frost’s road, the pathway Jesus lays before us is a path less traveled by in our world.  The way of the world tells us ‘an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth’.  The world tells us to enact justice and seek retribution for the wrongs we have been given.  Many might argue that this is the way of the Bible because these words quoted by Jesus, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ come directly from Leviticus.  Others might argue that Jesus offered a new pathway, but as we see in the words of the prophet Micah that God had been directing Israel towards the teaching of Christ before Jesus even came.  Micah 6:8 says:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Jesus offers us the pathway of Micah 6:8, the pathway of mercy, humility, and walking with God.  In the time of Micah, Israel had followed a path away from God, abusing the poor, and seeking their own gain.  Micah called Israel back to live and walk in the ways of God, to be just as God was just, to be merciful as God was merciful, and to be humble in our journey with God.  What a different message Micah had than what the world offered.

After 9/11 I remember being so angry about what those Islamic extremists had done.  I remember feeling that their needed to be retribution.  Although a pastor at the time, if someone came to me with these words of Jesus to turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies, I would have thrown them back.  I am sure that there were several people who first heard these words of Jesus and equally threw them back.  The Jews during Jesus day after all were a conquered people.  They had endured forced occupation and assimilation for over six hundred years.  The Romans were only the most recent of conquerors to their land which included the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and now the Romans.  It was required by Roman law that if ordered by a Roman soldier, a Jew must drop whatever he was doing and carry a soldier’s pack for one mile.

One could argue that it was a practical and reasonable law because it only required one mile.  Soldiers were required to march hundreds and even thousands of miles.  What was one mile?  No matter how practical and reasonable, it was still a law of submission.  It was meant to put a conquered people in their place, and remind them that Rome was in control, much like our own segregation laws of the 60’s which were meant to remind blacks that whites were in control.

February is black history month.  We are reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a devout Christian man who knew and followed the pathway of Christ.  He saw and experienced the abuse and terrorizing of black men, women, and children solely based on the color of their skin.  Many whites argued that ‘separate but equal’ was not only reasonable but Biblical.  However, it was far from equal and it was a system meant to degrade black Americans.  I am sure that many African Americans wanted retribution against the whites for the wrongs that they had endured; others pointed to these texts and said that they shouldn’t fight the system.  Vengeance or submission?  Dr. King knew that violence begets violence.  He also knew that injustice must be stood against.  From these teachings, he saw another road, a road less traveled.  Dr. King urged his followers not to attack the racist, instead attack the racism of those that would stand against them.  Therefore, they organized peaceful boycotts and demonstrations.  When they were spit upon, sprayed with fire hoses, yelled at, beaten and even lynched, he taught them not to fight back but march on.  March on that road less traveled.  March on that road of turning the other cheek.  March on that road of praying for one’s enemies.  Take the higher ground of God because that is how you change the hearts of a people.

The pathway of the world is to look out for oneself and to give back as well as you have received.  Unfortunately, as we look down the highway of hatred we see where it will take us.  We see the Hatfields versus the McCoys, Serbs versus Albanians, Basques versus Spain, Shiites versus Sunnis, Irish Protestants versus Irish Catholics, and on and on and on.  The pathway of vengeance only leads to more vengeance.  It is a battle that no one wins and everyone loses.  So long do these feuds go on that they are passed on from generation to generation and soon no one remembers what started the whole thing in the first place.

The way of the Lord is peace and turning the other cheek.  It is praying for one’s enemies, and going the extra mile.  It is of loving our neighbors as God has loved us.  This is the road of God.  Unfortunately, it is a road less often traveled.

Friends, as we travel along our own journey of life, let us take the pathway of God.  Let us not be tempted to take the easy road that leads to dismay and destruction, but let us take the road that Jesus points before us for although it is a tougher road to travel, it will lead us to the promised land where we shall see God.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.         20