Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Hard Teaching From Jesus

February 24, 2019 –– 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 26:2, 7–9,12–13, 222–23 / Psalm 103 / 1 Corinthians 15:45–49 / Luke 6:27–38
A Hard Teaching From Jesus

Does Jesus actually mean what he says? Jesus said some hard things. In saying love your enemies and bless those who curse you and offer the other cheek we certainly have words coming from Jesus that go against the grain. Did Jesus intend this to be taken literally or was he speaking in hyperbole to get effect?

There are those who understand these words literally as a basis for total pacifism. I traveled this road earlier in my spiritual journey, but I do not think Jesus is negating the use of force for social order in the world at large. The Church does not teach unqualified pacifism. There is an argument that Jesus was using figurative language here, but if Jesus was using figurative language we still need to know what he meant. He surely meant something! One problem with taking Jesus figuratively is that Jesus is not taken seriously at all.

Jesus is addressing his disciples here, and he is at least speaking to the way his followers should respond in their personal relationships. How do we handle it when others do bad things to us? Jesus' answer can be summed up in one word: love. We use this word “love” in a multitude of ways. No, we do not love our enemies with the same kind of love as our nearest and dearest family and friends, but we can choose to seek any person's good.

In this context, the admonition to love our enemy stands in direct contrast to the desire for personal retaliation. We inherently want to “get back” at those who harm or even threaten us. This was Abishai’s counsel to David––to “get” Saul while he could: let me nail him to the ground… God has always been concerned with retaliation among his people. In the Old Testament God gave laws limiting retaliation. When he told Israel An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, it was a divine limitation on the vengeance that says “if you break one of my teeth, I’ll smash all of yours!”

As if to emphasize that he expects people committed to his kingdom to respond differently than others, Jesus contrasts the behavior of “sinners" (this word is used in the context of those not concerned with what God wants). Jesus says that any person can love the people who love back. Most will lend if they expect to be repaid. But to love people who hurt you, and to give to people who not only are not able to repay but who may not seem to deserve it anyway, and to forgive without getting nasty about it, is to show that we really believe what Jesus says. When we choose to respond in love and forgiveness, and to give even when it hurts us, we are saying that nothing in this life is more important than showing Jesus’ kind of love.

Maybe your neighbor has a cat that seems always to be messing up your flower bed. How you respond to the neighbor is the issue Jesus is addressing. Did someone mistreat you maybe five weeks or five months or even five years ago and you can’t let it go?

The big issue here is whether anything in this life is more important to us than seeking to obey and be like Jesus. The desire to retaliate or the tendency to withdraw and sulk is part of everyone of us. Jesus isn't denying that; he wants to correct it and heal our souls.

There is a story from the gas shortage back in the early 70’s that deserves classic status. It happened in California where the population is dense and the lines were long. As one man sat waiting and waiting, a woman pulled in and cut in a small space in front of him. He was angry and got out of his car and walked up to the window of the woman's car. She locked her doors and just smiled at him. So he went back to his car and took off the gas cap which had a lock on it. He put it on her car, locked the gas cap, and drove off.

We instinctively think: the woman got what she deserved. But what if God gave us what we deserve? Maybe we think it's easy for God to forgive. We can feel so strongly whatever injustice has been done to us. But if we think it is easy for God to forgive we need to get alone and think about Jesus on the cross.

I know this is hard. It’s easy to think, "But that's not normal!" and I admit, "That's right!" But that is what the Christian life is all about––anyone can be "normal" according the world's definition. It doesn't take the love of Jesus to hit back or hold a grudge; it takes grace not to. And that's what Christianity is––being people who understand the need for God's grace, and being open to grace for ourselves so that we become channels of grace to others.

As Christians, our standard is God himself. Our calling is to respond to our enemies the way God responds to his. Paul tells the Romans: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners [v10--God's enemies], Christ died for us (5:8). Jesus says this in the Gospel reading: ...the Most High / is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. We cannot lower the standard that Jesus sets and be faithful; what we can do is ask for the grace to live this way and repent of our failures every week if that’s what it takes. This is how to be faithful.

If you are holding a grudge today, if you are withholding forgiveness, I ask you to decide right now to pray to let it go. If you have withdrawn from a person because of something he said or did, let it go. If he didn't mean to hurt you, why let it stand in the way? If someone did mean to hurt you, then forgive him and leave it with God. Don’t let someone else's sin ruin your life as well!

As we learn to absorb the personal blows that come our way, we learn more and more what it means to know and follow Jesus. When we give ourselves to Jesus, it affects everything we are and do. 

1 comment:

Called 2B Holy said...

Thank you, Deacon Hall !

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