Posted on Wed, Feb 22, 2017
February 19, 2017
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Text: Matthew 5:38-48
38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus begins his message with two very familiar phrases or teachings the people understood very well, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” People understood these phrases and pretty much adhered to them. People today, oftentimes refer to both of these phrases as well. We always hear who people like or don't like, we even hear fear mongers telling us that we should go to war, BEFORE they strike us… I try not to listen to these voices, because they only get me upset… until I hear myself uttering the same kinds of words…
Actually, the phrase, “An eye for an eye and a toot for a tooth,” was given to limit conflict. If a person of another clan killed a person from one clan, of course there would be anger, plus there would be the strong desire for revenge. The phrase was actually put in place so that the desire for revenge wouldn't turn into the desire to wipe out the entire other clan. The Law was there to appease the anger, but to hopefully keep the violence to a minimum … I wonder if it ever really was used to limit violence and the desire for revenge throughout history.
Jesus essentially takes both of these well-remembered teachings and blows them up. He throws them far beyond the range of human understanding and logic to the point of their intended purpose according to a God of love, mercy and justice.
To put today’s text into perspective, we need to recall a few other sayings Jesus also put before us in the past several weeks; “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the mourning, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who are persecuted on account of me.” And then there were, “You are the Salt of the Earth,” and “You are the Light of the World.” These words are just as important, and give us the basis to understand what and why Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.
When Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said,” I realize that I was taught who to hate early in life. I grew up in the sixties, and we were taught to hate the communists. It didn't matter what kind of communist, Chinese, Russian or especially the North Vietnamese; “Who I was supposed to hate,” was drilled into my head by adults, the TV programs and even comic books.
As I grew older more people told me who I was supposed to hate, the Sandinistas, the Contras, etc. I really didn't know why I was supposed to hate the Sandinistas and their cause.
Then there was a time we were told we must hate the Iranians… this seems to be an “on again, off again” hate… They seem to make good targets in the movies…
There were so many more people we were supposed to hate, soon the list of those I was obligated to hate included more and more of my neighbors. I was now called to hate the welfare mothers, and welfare cheats, anyone in needing of welfare assistance. Somehow the poor were suddenly becoming the reason for all the problems in society.
It seems that almost every few years there is a different group we are told to hate, right now the Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese, (I have no idea about the Russians nowadays), the entire LGBTQ community, and now the media…
In high school, I was in many musicals; one of my favorites was “South Pacific.” The lyrics of one song is very familiar:
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
Satire? A statement of truth? I’m not sure, but the song has haunted me since high school.
When Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said,” he is talking about what is being taught at that time, in society. A teaching or way of thinking that was considered ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in society. Something that society goes a long way at giving it credence and giving it some kind of normality. But Jesus isn’t interested in the status quo, or protecting the values that lift up or even protect the people with so-called power and influence.
If you are the Salt or the Earth, or the Light of the World, how is repeating the status quo anything but… the status quo; or most of all, continuing the same kinds of thoughts and values that draw us away from God’s intentions of us living as a community of faith, being the Salt of the Earth, the Light to the World.
We are called to make God known in the world, and experience the radical grace and mercy given to us through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you want to help people see God in our world, go and unconditionally forgive someone you have a grudge with. Do you want grow in your own faith, do, say, create a blessing or positive message for everyone in our society. When someone blames the stranger, the needy, the poor, the prisoner, the houseless, the outcast, the refugee, anyone society has taught us to hate stand up and say “NO.” By welcoming those who society has taught us to hate, we become the salt of the earth, and we sting those who still continue to divide and conquer.
Today Akira Sylvester is going to be baptized into the Body of Christ, a Community of Believers, my most sincere prayer for today is that Akira grows up in this church and never is “taught to hate,” rather in this sanctuary he always and constantly learns that as he is loved beyond his, or our, mind will ever understand, we are blessed when we use our time, talents and treasures to be blessings to the widow, orphan or stranger.
The phrase ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” is not a metaphor. God blesses all people with sun and rain, the good and bad alike. Don’t ever wish you lived in “the days of Jesus,” sadly the values of society today are no different than the values of Jesus’ day. There were enemies and killing in Jesus’ day; there are enemies and even more killing going on today. If there ever was a time for us to be the Salt of the Earth, and demonstrate radical welcome and mercy is not.
“The phrase ‘You have heard that it was said,” reflects the values of society, country clubs and casual conversation, but it does not reflect the values of a Christian Church or a Christian Community. We worship in a building called a “Sanctuary,” and that means something. Here we are free to forgive, because the cross tells us that we first were forgiven.
This is a place, where we, as sinners, once broken away from God due to our own self-centeredness, our own personal judgments and desires, were Re-Created into the Children of God at the waters of Baptism. The normal conversation Akira and all children gathered here SHOULD constantly hear humble words of confession, forgiveness, thanksgiving and hearts filled with the joy of service, worship, fellowship and doing what we need to do to strengthen/deepen our faith and make the love, grace, mercy and grace known in this, God’s world, broken, yet loved. Amen.
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