On 26th June the Dad’s Army 50th anniversary stamps are issued. They feature some of the well known catchphrases from the classic comedy. These include: “You stupid boy!” Captain Mainwaring, First Class. “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” Lance Corporal Jones, First Class. “Do you think that is wise sir?” Sergeant Wilson, Second Class. “We’re doomed. Doomed!” Private Frazer, £1.45. “Do you think I might be excused?” Private Godfrey, £1.55; “Put that light out!” Chief Warden Hodges,£1.5. Understandably they do not include Jones’ “They don’t like it up ‘em” or, for me the best line from this comedy, Mainwairing saying “Don’t tell them your name, Pike”.
This got me thinking about how some of Jesus words are well known today. Not 50 years later but 2,000 years. Some people may use these phrases without knowing that Jesus said them, or the original meaning. They form the cross found on the front cover.
“Salt of the earth”, means that someone is trustworthy, dependable, straightforward. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5.13, Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
In Jesus’ day salt was used to flavour and preserve food and as currency. Jesus was saying that his followers should be distinctive, purifying and valuable. Salt was not as pure as it is today and if it lost its flavour it would be used like gravel.
“Go the extra mile” means to make more effort than is expected of you. To try especially hard. This, too comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5.41. Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
Roman law allowed a Roman soldier to compel a civilian to carry his pack one Roman mile. There were stone columns alongside roads every mile. Of course, the Romans were the occupying forces and were enemies of the Jews who had to pay taxes to them to pay for the occupation of their own land. Jesus was saying, “OK, the Romans have the power to make you carry their load for a mile. Surprise them with your grace and kindness by carrying it for two!” This would have led the Roman soldier to ask why anyone would be kind to them after they had interrupted their day and forced them to carry the load
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is used to refer to the belief that retaliation in kind is the appropriate way to deal with an offence or crime. It came from the Old Testament law as a way of stopping an escalation of violence. If someone knocked someone’s tooth out, the injured party would often retaliate by knocking out two or more! This law was restrictive, saying you shouldn’t do more than was done to you, not prescriptive, that you had to do it. Jesus never supported this law. He said, Matthew 5.38 “You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
So we have another of Jesus’ sayings that are well known. Turn the other cheek. He is saying that we should not retaliate. But he may have been saying more than this. A slap on the right cheek would usually be given by a right handed person with the back of their hand. This implies contempt, that the one being slapped is inferior. A Roman soldier would certainly consider a Jew to be subordinate. Jesus could have been saying that he wants his followers to be treated like equals and to stand up and demand equality, even if this meant being struck on the other side, too! It is a call to peaceful resistance. Jesus demonstrated this by the way he acted in his trial and crucifixion.
Jesus said, “Do to others what you could have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7.12. A TV programme polled people as to the best commandment to live by and this came out on top. I don’t know how many of those polled knew Jesus was the author. It is a good rule, but one that none of us are able to keep.
A well known phrase is “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”, Matthew 26.41. Jesus said this to his followers just before he was arrested because he wanted them to watch and pray but they were tired and kept falling asleep.
“I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus said this in Matthew 19.28 after a rich young man failed to follow him. Money and possessions were more important to him than following God. It is easy for us to invest out time, energy and emotions in money and possessions rather than God and to think they will provide for us in a way that only God can.
The preceding three quotations from Jesus show that we cannot be good enough for God. We need his forgiveness and undeserved favour, my definition of “grace”, in order that we can be friends of God.
There are many other well known quotes from Jesus I could talk about, but I will finish with two, one from John 14.1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me”. “Believe” is a trusting word. We are to trust in Jesus with our whole life. His words have been preserved and passed down because they are as relevant today as they were when Jesus first spoke them. Those word were first spoken to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, just after he had told them he was going to be crucified. They can speak to us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. We can be assured that Jesus can be with us all of the time by His Spirit, whom he gives to all who trust in him. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28.20.
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3.16-17