Reflection on the Sermon on the Mount passages from the Twelve Scriptures project

Carol Whitney

As most of you know I was not raised in a Mennonite home. My moral upbringing included many biblical stories, songs, and principles. It also included some not-quite-biblical principals of Yankee stoicism, handwork, pride, honor, and personal dignity.

We were taught to be kind and giving, to “walk 1000 miles in the other’s moccasins” before casting judgment, to be selfless and neighborly, but not to go too far. “After all, you don’t want to be a doormat all your life.”

I am a fan of the works of J. D. Salinger (with the exception of Catcher in the Rye, of course). In Seymour: An Introduction there is a description of a birthday party debacle. A younger brother has been given a brand new bike for his birthday. He goes out for a ride and returns home without the bike. He explains, to the horror of his father, that he met a boy who had never had a ride on a bike, so he gave his bike to the boy. “The whole bike to a stranger?” howled the father. “Why not just give him a ride on the bike?” “Because he wanted more than just a ride,” replied the boy. Seymour then proceeds to explain to his father the purity of the religious act that his brother has performed.

Face slapping, indentured servitude (commentators suggest that going two miles when asked to go one refers to a custom of Roman occupation wherein a soldier would commandeer a passerby and force him to carry the soldier’s gear for him for a mile), possession abandonment, and birthday bike giving. I am challenged. Surely there must be some boundaries here. What if the hitchhiker doesn’t just want a ride, but wants my car?

I all too clearly can envision the expressions on the faces of my parents if they were to read the previous query. But search as I might I can not find the boundaries. At times words of trusted friends seem to enlighten a fuzzy image of a boundary. Further readings of the words of our Lord cause the faint boundaries to summer and disappear. The longer I live in faith the more challenging these verses become.

Perhaps I am called to be a doormat after all.

The mat that lies before the door.

The mat that lies between the dust, dirt, and mud of the raging storms of the world, not completely apart from them or the debris they stir up, but right next to the door, under the overhang, the light from the doorway flooding over me.

The mat proclaiming Welcome.