Discovering Spiritual Awareness (series pt 4)
“Jesus Says ‘Love’ Who?”
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 7/19/2015
Based on Matthew 5:43-48
When I was entering into my sophomore year in high school, my parents relocated to what seemed like the edge of the world, Western Kansas. As the new kid in school, it is never easy making friends, especially when you are as introverted and shy as I was in those years. As I went about trying to make friends, it was very apparent that I had attracted the attention of one of the schools bullies. I had never really ever encounter being the focus of a school bully before and was unequipped to deal with this type of encounter. My attempts to avoid him, seemed less than successful as a final show down occurred before class with a demand to meet him after school for a fight. If I declined, he would have proved me to be a coward and thus establishing my lowliness in the “pecking order” of classmates. If I accepted his challenge, I would be going against my personal belief that all situations could be negotiated to a satisfactory end by both disagreeing parties. I had adopted this standard due to a poor choice to become involved in a fight in Fifth grade that landed me in bed for over two months with a blood clot at the base of my brain. Fortunately the teacher of that class had come into the room over hearing the challenge. She had a zero tolerance for “bullying” and with no uncertain terms put the bully in his place and ending future focus on me. But life continually shows us that not all bullies and enemies are so easily dealt with.
In this morning’s scripture, Jesus brings another understanding of what it means to be living in the “Image” that we are made. Last week we looked at the importance of our “self-image” as we are commanded to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” So what do you do when confronted with the school bully? The advise that my older cousin gave me was stand up to the bully, which meant “fight the dude” otherwise he would be bothering me throughout high school. But practical experience had showed me that fighting never ends well. What do you do with bullies like Hitler? Do you just step down and allow them to destroy world peace? Or how about the situation with Iran? How do we handle their threats against Israel as they want to continue their development of nuclear energy?
President Teddy Roosevelt use to say, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” Is that the advice that Jesus is telling us in this morning’s text? To be brutally honest most of us do not believe in what Jesus is saying in this passage. We most generally brush this teaching off by rationalizing it as a “nice goal” or “objective” to work toward, but see it as not practical advice. Think back to how we as a country reacted to the attack by terrorists on our shores on September 11, 2001; the majority of Evangelical Christians were crying to retaliate which has lead us into 14 years of war with Iraq and Afghanistan. We see the results of “an eye for and eye” between the Israeli and Palestinian governments. We see Russia, escalating its nuclear armament once again. The National Defense budget makes up the largest percentage of our national budget. Sensible gun laws are often being challenged as gun sales continue to be on the rise.
The awareness of “enemies” is not just worldwide but also on the rise within our neighborhoods. Surely it is impractical to follow what Jesus is saying in Matthew. What would Jesus know about violence; after all he was a bleeding liberal, preaching “love” not “war”, totally out of touch with the reality of life. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer.” What’s wrong with this man, what does he mean don’t retaliate, or not seek the death penalty for retribution? Yet Jesus lived what he said. When he was arrested, he insisted on nonviolence when Peter picked up his sword. Before the Pharisees he did not return evil accusation with hate. He allowed himself to be flogged by Pilate and then went without resistance caring his own cross to Golgotha. Why? Jesus could have immobilized a physical rebellion but he chose to live by what he taught. Even on the cross, he prayed for those who had persecuted him saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
There are five verses before this morning’s text where Jesus talked about various acts of aggression toward an individual and how not to resist, but even give more. The general wisdom of Jesus’ day was, when someone did you wrong, you sought retribution with the same act toward the person who wronged you, this is where we understand the “eye for an eye.” But Jesus realized that this type of behavior never really cures the ailment.
This past week, a 94 year old former Nazi SS member, who was an accountant at Auschwitz, was convicted as an “accessory” to the criminal acts of murder of over 300,000 Jews. He was sentenced to 4years for his participation at the camp. This now opens up future trials for others who would be classified as “accessories” to the deaths. I have a lot of mixed emotions over this trial, struggling with questions of justice and mercy. I recall what Auschwitz survivor Eva Moses Kor shared in her presentation at this year’s Governors 34th Annual Holocaust Remembrance service. Eva said that she was only a prisoner at Auschwitz for two years, but spent the next 45 years being a victim and prisoner of the Nazi’s because of the hate and fear that she held onto. Then one day she realized that she no longer wished to live as a victim and freed herself of her enemies by releasing that anger, fear, and hate. What she realized by holding onto all those negatives, she was playing into the hands of those who were her enemies.
I don’t think Jesus is advocating to subjugate to our enemies and just roll over and take it, so to speak, when he says, turn the other cheek, or not to resist ones enemies, or by going the extra mile, or giving up your cloak when you are being sued for your shirt. What Jesus is speaking to is a path of change by not playing into the acts of violation but rather resistance by not resisting the opponent, but rather by resisting opposition itself. Within Jesus’ words of, “Love your enemies and pray for them”, Jesus is giving us a clue as to how to resist our enemies, without physical resistance which only continues future violence toward ourselves and our adversaries.
Professor of Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School, Rev Dr Matthew Boulton sums it up this way: In the face of the most extreme opponents (enemies) and acts of opposition (persecution), Jesus advises defiance – but not defiance directed against the enemies themselves, since this simply perpetuates and intensifies the adversarial relationship, but rather a deeper defiance directed against the vicious, endless cycle of enemy making. Pg 385, Feasting on the Word, Yr A, Vol 1
I think of it as how to react to a Charlie-horse or leg cramps. I have had to learn to not resist the cramping of the muscle, as that only intensifies the restricting by the muscle, but rather to move into the pain of the constricting muscle, which then allows the muscle to start relaxing and the constricting leaves. It is very painful and it goes against our nature, but it works.
Jesus say the same thing about how to react to the unjust actions of our enemies, by not resisting them, but rather defuse the acts in ways that work toward resisting cycles that create enemy making. The “Prayer Walks” that are occurring each Friday this month in the Park Hill neighborhood is one way a number of Christians are working toward ending violence in that neighborhood. By walking the streets and stopping to pray at sites where people have been gunned downed and along the way passing out fliers that speak about how to positively interact with a person who is a member of a violent gang, they are resisting the cycle that create enemy making.
When we recognize that within each of us is the “Image of God”, we will find it more difficult to cultivate the soil that creates enemy making. Our spiritual journey is the work of cultivating this awareness. To love our enemies and to pray for them can only happen when we see the “Image” in others, so that we might be able to resist the cycles of enemy building and become neighbor builders. Amen