May 17, 2014
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Sometimes (often?) I read the Gospels and think to myself, No way! How ridiculous! Today’s text is certainly no exception. (Yes, this is my second try at a post on it. No, you may not see the initial stab.) The demands Jesus makes are above and beyond normal expectations. This section concludes the series of theses and antitheses wherein Jesus demonstrates a righteousness that exceeds that of the most pious people of his time (see Matthew 5:20). Indeed, as today’s reading tells us, we are to be perfect just like God is perfect (at this point I am like Noah in this classic Bill Cosby sketch: “Right.”).
The ideas suggested in this text are hyperbolic. Jesus is not expecting us to be pummeled (but he does call us to nonviolent resistance). Jesus is not telling us to go around naked (to give one’s cloak and tunic leaves one quite exposed!). We surely cannot give to everyone who asks of us (even at the time of the Gospel needs exceeded supply).
But the hyperbole does communicate a fresh vision for the world. The Kingdom of Heaven as Matthew sees it is a place of nonviolence and a place where everyone’s needs are met. The ways of being and doing described in this text offer a protest to the ways of being and doing that are so familiar to us in a world all too often might makes right and money makes the world go around.
Live just a little into Jesus’ vision today. Offer your own protest of a violent and selfish world. See if you can do just one of the following: do not repay violence with violence, give until you feel a pinch, go an extra mile, give to whomever asks. Thank God for the power of a resurrected life.