From Pastor Kenny's Desk
February 24, 2019
“To you who hear me, I say: love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. When they slap you on one cheek, turn and give them the other; when they take your coat, let them have your shirt as well. Give to all who beg from you. When someone takes what is yours, don’t demand it back.
“Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ do as much. If you lend to those you expect to repay you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to other ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. Love your enemies and do good to them. Lend without expecting repayment, and your reward will be great. You’ll rightly be called children of the Most High, since God is good even to the ungrateful and the wicked.
“Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Pardon, and you’ll be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you: a full measure – packed down, shaken together and running over – will be poured into your lap. For the amount you measure out is the amount you’ll be given back.”
~ Luke 6:27-38
In this sacred text Jesus continues his sermon on the plain teaching his disciples that they must love their enemies and pray for those that persecute them, and faithfully, but nonviolently, resist those that would cause them harm. Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love only those who love you, then you’re no better than anyone else because we all love those who love us … but for those who love all, who do what good they can … theirs is the reign of God. What
you give is what you will receive.
At first glance the thought that came to my mind was … Come on Jesus, get real! You’ve got to be kidding … Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you … I don’t think so. If someone slaps me on the cheek turn and give them the other: if someone take my coat give them my shirt also … No way Jesus … be realistic. Are you suggesting that if someone takes things which belong to me I should in turn give them more? This is absolute non-sense and sounds more like doormat theology. These words are more than challenging … they are crazy-making!
Then we read the words Do to others what you would have them do to you … Whew! Finally, some relief … that’s more like it and sounds much more practical. These words make much more sense. We know them as the Golden Rule and have likely been familiar with them since kindergarten.
Sometimes it's tempting to boil the whole Bible down to one verse like this. It's a verse people can understand and it sounds like practical wisdom about getting along in the world. But it's not possible to boil the Bible down to one verse, even a very good verse. If we pull the Golden Rule out of this chapter of Luke’s story as a summary of everything Jesus said, it's likely that we'll miss most of what Jesus said and taught. We have to go back to where Jesus began this teaching … Love your enemies. He says it not only once but repeats it again later. But love your enemies; do good to them … and then we realize the Golden Rule applies even when we sense that someone won't treat us the way we'd like to be treated. This is where it gets very hard. This kind of behavior is not only impractical, but can seem downright wrong.
Jesus' words about turning the other cheek and giving up your shirt along with your coat seem demeaning in the extreme. It's likely that Jesus is speaking to those who were victims rather than victimizers, to those oppressed rather than their oppressors, to the marginalized rather than those who marginalize. But Jesus isn't encouraging victims to continue allowing others to abuse and mistreat them. It's very hard for us to see that because it sounds like Jesus is telling victims to be quiet, to keep taking it and to let the abuse continue.
Strange as it may seem to us … I believe Jesus' words are the basis for non-violent resistance to oppression. Instead of viewing these verses with a modern day understanding it is important to put them in the context of when Jesus lived. In the culture of first-century Palestine, a person's left hand was used for what we might call, well, bathroom functions. I know it's not pleasant to think about … but it meant that you would never strike a person with your left hand. If you were superior to another person, you would strike them with the back of your right hand, never with the palm of your hand for that would mean you'd see them as an equal. The picture Jesus is painting is this: if someone strikes you on the cheek, it will most likely be with the back of their hand … remember Jesus is talking to victims … here so the oppressor will not see you as an equal. The oppressor is likely to hit you with the back of his hand. If you turn your face to the side, you force the oppressor to see you as an equal for even the oppressor won't use the left hand. Some things simply weren't done. Jesus wants us to see an almost comical situation here. The oppressor's hand begins to swing but is caught in mid-air because he doesn't want to treat you as an equal by hitting you with open palm.
The same humorous resistance comes in giving up your shirt when the oppressor asks for your coat. This isn't a case of giving an old coat to be given away through the Vicky Hester Food Pantry. Jesus is talking about something completely different. It's likely that someone asks for your coat in repayment of a debt. You owe the oppressor something and since you have no land and very little money, the oppressor asks for your coat. Keep in mind there were very clear restrictions regarding the repayment of debts. You could not leave a debtor naked at sundown no matter what he or she owed … it simply was not done. It was against every sense of decency and good order. So Jesus sets up another strategy of resistance. If they ask for your coat, give them your shirt too. There you'll be standing half-naked; they'll be forced to deal with this new reality you've set up. No, no! No, no! they say, I don't want your shirt. Put it back on. They might be so disarmed that they'll return your coat as well.
Jesus is not telling people to remain victims but instead to find new ways of resisting evil. Love your enemies … do good to those who hate you. This is the idea that moved Martin Luther King, Jr., to kneel down with many brothers and sisters before water hoses and snarling police dogs. Many people thought he was crazy. Only violence can fight violence, they told him. But the authorities and the oppressors didn't know what to do with this kind of resistance. They knew the power of violence; they knew the powerlessness of victims who knew their place, but this was something they hadn't seen before: victims who refused to be victims, victims who refused to fight back with violence, victims who claimed their place and reshaped the battle completely.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. And don't be too impressed with yourself for being good to your friends. Anybody can do that, Jesus says. "If you love those who love you, what credit does that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ do as much. If you lend to those you expect to repay you, what credit does that do you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to other ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. Just when we have the Golden Rule memorized, Jesus reminds us that it's far deeper than how we treat our friends. It's far deeper than what we hope to receive. It's even different from treating others the way we hope to be treated. Jesus comes back again to the place where he began: Love your enemies and do good to them. Lend without expecting repayment.
It's not very practical, not in the sense of getting ahead in the world or doing what comes naturally. When I hear these words from Jesus I often think about Matthew Shepherd's mother Judy. Matthew was brutally beaten for being gay … beaten because one man felt that he had made a pass at him. The man felt foolish and unmanly … so he got a friend to help him put the young college student in his place. The two of them beat Matthew over and over again. Then they tied him to a fence on a country road and left him alone in the freezing night. By the time someone found him the next morning and got him to the hospital, there was no way to save him. Matthew Shepherd died as hundreds stood in candlelight vigil outside the hospital. The two men who killed Matthew were arrested, tried, and convicted of the brutal hate crime. Proved guilty of first-degree murder, they deserved the death penalty in the state of Wyoming. But Matthew's mother came before the judge. She asked the judge to spare the lives of these guilty men. Who can understand what she had gone through in all the agonizing months leading up to the trial? What parent could sleep with images of their son tied to a fence, beaten and alone through the cold night? What sort of people could do this to another human being?
Love your enemies, Jesus said, do good to those who hate you. When I hear these words I often think of Judy … her life shaped by God’s love and grace which is deeper than hatred and stronger than revenge. I don’t know if I could do what she did but I value and respect her witness to the power of love … remembering that God’s love is often not practical but I believe it can change the world.
Some of the teachings of Jesus are hard to hear, especially for those who are victims of abuse and other forms of violence. Jesus teaches us to not physically resist an evil-doer, but only in the sense that we not become violent and abusive ourselves. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us in the hope that they will be transformed by love. This is not a passive letting your enemies walk all over you, but an active way of resisting evil. Loving others requires that we still see humanity in others when they refuse to see it in us.
In all of this, Jesus reminds us non-violence is: a way of life for courageous people … seeks to dismantle systems of violence, bigotry and hate … seeks to defeat injustice not people … holds that suffering can educate and transform … chooses love instead of hate.
God does not discriminate against any one. God loves everyone … regardless of the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, social economic status, ability, age, or even their behavior. All people are deserving of God’s love.
As people faith we are not called to be passive and let oppressive systems keep people in bondage. We are called to extend the love of God to everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done. Jesus teaches resistance to oppression and marginalization … turn the cheek, give to the beggar, pray for the enemy, and by doing so we share God’s love with ALL people.