Spending some time with the Sermon on the Mount recently had me thinking: “Is Jesus serious about all this?”
Specifically, I was spending time reflecting on the loving enemies and not seeking revenge passages. It’s a hard sell. Culturally, most people are acclimated to striking back, getting the upper hand, looking strong and taking no enemies. We’re taught that at every turn. “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” makes sense except, of course, when it’s our eye and our teeth someone is coming for.
Jumping into the cultural cauldron of his time Jesus tries to teach a new love language and I wonder how much people were really buying into it. He was saying that it’s important to go the extra mile and to turn the other cheek. He was trying to teach both the language and actions of the kingdom of God. And that involves often doing both the unnatural and unthinkable.
Read Matthew 5: 38-48. It’s a clear call not to root ourselves in the laws of reciprocity but instead to root ourselves in the habits of the kingdom.
At first blush it does look impractical. Who wants to get run over and taken advantage of? Who wants to be stepped on? Who wants to be seen as a second class citizen?
Then comes the ‘aha’ moment. Have I just taken a kingdom possibility and made it only about ‘me’? Isn't that what most of us do all the time? Isn't that our default position? We don't like this tax because there's 'less' for me? We don't like this company policy because it means "I" have to change?
It's not about me. It's not about you. It's about God and His Kingdom. Is it possible that God’s purposes could be better served in the midst of us being stretched, pulled, run over, cheated, manipulated, and inconvenienced? Could it be that my sense of entitlement stands in the way of God revealing Himself in rather remarkable ways in and through my life?
If we were truly Kingdom people what would others see in our response to unjust situations?
What I’m realizing about myself is that I can put myself right into the middle of a passage of Scripture and belligerently look Jesus in the eye and say, “You’re wrong. This won’t work.” Or I can say, “Ok, this might work but immediately start looking for the loopholes. And I have to wonder why I’m so quick to doubt Jesus and is my insatiable quest for loopholes making me the modern day equivalent of a Pharisaical theological hair splitter.
As long I’m being belligerent and seeking loopholes I won’t get it. And what I need to get is that sometimes I’m vindictive and unforgiving. I seek revenge and don’t want to walk one mile let alone two. I want to hold grudges and not pray for my enemies. It’s my lack of love that creates a bit of a living hell for those in my relational networks. And when I don’t allow Jesus to write a new kingdom language on my heart I fall dismally short of what citizenship in the kingdom of God needs to look like. And if I don't allow Jesus to script something new in me I'm admitting that I have a better way. Sure I do.
It’s been said that the way of Jesus hasn’t been tried and found wanting. Nope. More often than not it hasn’t been tried. Jesus is always about the kingdom of God and in that kingdom people think, speak, and act differently and they do so even if it is at odds with the rest of the culture. So …
Instead of striking back you allow someone to hit you again.
Instead of carrying someone else’s burden one mile you go two.
Instead of an eye for an eye for an eye you love and pray for your enemies.
We have to understand that Jesus is not whistling in the wind. Jesus is saying that this is what kingdom people do. They aim higher and live differently. And they take it so seriously that it becomes the habit of their life. And those habits will allow us to seek first the kingdom of God. That’s the goal. Of course, I’m not talking about being a chump or arguing against fleeing from abuse or not standing up to evil. Not at all. But is there a ‘kingdom response and way’ we all too easily ignore? I think so.
Years ago in South Africa the Sermon on the Mount became the means to the end of a particularly ugly chapter in that countries history. Apartheid stripped the majority non-white population of many rights. It led to corruption, false imprisonments and insane violence. In 1994 free elections were held and Nelson Mandela was elected president
Mandela ended up appointing Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Kingdom of God way of bringing ugly truth to the light of day without exacting revenge.
The Commission allowed both victim and oppressor to meet before a tribunal. If the oppressor faced his accusers and confessed to wrongdoing he/she would not be prosecuted for crimes committed. Mandela took heat from many about the lack of justice in the process. Mandela believed that his country needed healing more than justice. He knew that any attempt to punish would only continue a deadly cycle of retribution. So, he chose the harder road.
On many occasions victims and oppressors met on this common ground. And many times you could see God visibly at work. Instead of hate, love won out. Instead of revenge, forgiveness was offered. Instead of rage, reconciliation took place.
When that happened justice was probably not served well. People didn’t get what they deserved. But when grace descended the earth became a bit more like the kingdom of God. And it gets our attention.
Nations certainly need to pursue justice and establish strong laws. There comes a point when justice and law keeping reaches a dead end. Justice helps us manage and order life but more is needed. It is the power of God welling up to go beyond hate and getting even. Ghandi said it well “Keep on with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the whole world will soon be both blind and toothless.”
Jesus set forth another way. It’s a way of grace. Paul tells us “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.” We are called to be dispensers of God’s grace. We are never more like the Father than when we love those who don’t love us. And we’re never more thankful than when we are loved when we don’t deserve it.
The way of love, the extra effort, aiming for more than just keeping the law is the kingdom pathway.
What does this mean for you? Not sure exactly. For me, it means taking a look at those 'it's all about me' attitudes I hold. And examining my amazing ability to point fingers at anyone but myself has to be put on the to do list. Maybe even exploring any lingering roots of bitterness towards others needs to be brought to the Lord. Certainly, I have to contest for my 'heart' for it so easily buys into the easy answers the culture hands me. I'm more adept at modeling 'an eye for an eye' than praying for those who do me harm.
Tough scripture demands tough introspection. Living it out isn't a legalistic journey. I read recently that those who love God's word need to become good at improv. More on that some other time.
Let me know what you think.