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Muscle Memory

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”     (Matthew 5:38-39)

In my day, one of the popular underdog hero movies I enjoyed was Karate Kid. It first aired in 1984, and the story was compelling enough to get a complete facelift with new actors and a new venue in 2010. In the 1984 version the reluctant karate master (Mr. Miyagi), Pat Morita, and the desperate student, (Daniel LaRusso) Ralph Macchio, seek to resolve an issue with a local group of bullies. Once the burden of Daniel becomes so palpable that it begins to weigh on Mr. Miyagi, the reluctant master accepts his more than eager student. Daniel is expecting an unparalleled education in board breaking and belt colors, that is so common with the marketing commercialism of American Karate. However, Mr. Miyagi has no use for that kind of “training.”  Wax the car, comes the first instructions from Mr. Miyagi. Daniel finishes the first, only to encounter a yard full of cars. A full day’s worth of work. Reasoning to himself, Daniel assumes that this is some sort of payment prior to getting trained. He works off the debt in great anticipation of what is to come. Having completed his task, Daniel encounters the next instruction from Mr. Miyagi. Paint the fence. Suddenly, what seems like acres of fence line encroach on Daniel’s vision. A little incredulous, Daniel still works through his task. The nagging thought: Will all this work be worth the training?

It has been two days since Mr. Miyagi offered to train Daniel. Days filled with mindless chores. His muscles are still aching. Chores are completed. Training can begin. At least that is where Daniel’s mind takes him. The third instruction from Mr. Miyagi comes. “Training complete. Go home.”  Incensed, Daniel explodes with accusations at the “old man.”  Insisting that he just wanted someone to complete the chores that he did not want to do, Daniel turns to leave in a rage.

Patiently, Mr. Miyagi takes the onslaught of insults and calls out to Daniel. Daniel-san, Daniel-san. Mr. Miyagi using a polite Japanese form of address to Daniel. “Stand ready.” Daniel turns, … oh yeah, training is starting now. Mr. Miyagi commands, “Paint the Fence!”  Daniel, again disrespectfully, “I already did that old man.”  Mr. Miyagi commands, “paint the fence,” in the air in front of Daniel. Daniel limply goes through the motion. His muscles perform the action while his mind coddles Daniel’s anger. Mr. Miyagi commands “Again!” and unleashes a barrage of punches. Daniel blocks, again, again and again. What just happened? Daniel’s mind has not caught up with what his muscles know so well now. Mr. Miyagi commands again, “Wax the car.”  Daniel, still bewildered, repeats the motion, his muscles performing what is so familiar, his mind disengaged and confused. Mr. Miyagi commands “Again!”  And again, Mr. Miyagi unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks. Daniel blocks each one over and over and over again.

Still processing what has just happened, Daniel’s mind is racing through the scene, replaying a thousand times what just happened. How is he still standing from an attack that would have left him on his back just a few days ago? Mr. Miyagi instructs again, “Training complete. Go home.”

What does it look like when the Creator lays the mundane upon his creation? What does Christian muscle memory look like? The Master, preparing, strengthening, building his army of saints to obliviate the unseen evil and wicked forces that have power beyond comprehension. Jesus provided for us a set of “chores” to achieve that very goal, one of the most puzzling of which is the turning of the other cheek. Over the centuries that instruction came into the hands of educated, well meaning men who profess love and belief in Jesus. We invented explanations of this precept and introduced exceptions, as if to retort to the Son of God “Don’t you know how to fight?” Still the plain reading of the text confronts us. Translated into thousands of languages and living through millennia, “turn the other cheek” has perplexed the most brilliant minds of our created world. I feel I am in a good crowd, when I also find myself perplexed by the different situations that arise in life, where some form of “turn the other cheek” must be applied. The plain text constantly inviting me to participate in, what appears to be, a meaningless chore. Worse, a chore that may bring about great harm to my person. Still the plain text calls.

As I reflect on how I have responded in the past to the teaching of the Master, I am reluctant to share my opinion of what was “actually meant.”  It seems that my opinion would just be one more in a pile of tired, aging, secondhand advice. And Satan is so good at taking my opinions and helping me fashion an ephod that I can wear proudly in front of my Creator. (Hopefully, you understood the tongue in cheek expression). One thing that I have learned over the years is that when I am wronged or, more accurately, feel I am wronged, I am never equipped to judge the justice that should be rendered against my “enemy.” And what is worse, I find that when I have judged and rendered justice, it was overkill at best.

This thing I know, muscle memory does not come about by reading other people’s opinions. It only comes about by following the instructions of the Master. Daniel had to learn, wash the car, paint the fence. For me,  … turn the other cheek. I am certain, that I have no idea the plans that the Creator has for me. I am also certain, that I will be unprepared to be in his army, if I have not spent my life in the “mundane chores” of his instruction.

                                                                   -   Steve Turquette