“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
One quick but important note: this is not an excuse for suffering abuse or oppression. Jesus’ words aren’t directed to those who are in abusive situations. Rather, the force of his concern goes in the exact opposite direction. Jesus is speaking to those who have been trained and equipped to strike back, get even, or take revenge against their enemies.
This is the way of the world. Take before you are taken. Strike before you are struck. He who laughs last laughs best. Look out for number one. You only go around once. The one with the most toys wins. And so on. The dominant theme of this world and life is scarcity – there is not enough so get yours first – that leads ineluctably to a situation of competition and a corresponding cycle of violence.
Which is precisely what Jesus came to oppose. Jesus knows that the only outcome of the culture of scarcity, fear, revenge, and violence is death. And so he introduces another possibility, one as outlandish now as it was then. Return violence with peace, hate with love, anger with patience, fear with comfort, lousy credit with generosity, sin with forgiveness, injustice with mercy.
And the people who will have the hardest time accepting this will be those in political and religious offices. Why? Because they have imagined that their office is to keep order…at any cost. And mercy, in case you haven’t noticed, is very disruptive.
So let’s be clear that Jesus is not inviting people to stay in abusive relationships or situations of oppression. Rather, he is inviting us to overturn the order that sanctions such abuse and oppression in the first place. And because we as a species tend to prefer a sense of order and stability over all things, they put Jesus to death to maintain the order rather than enter into the chaotic, unpredictable world of grace, mercy, and life he proclaims.
But he came back, inviting us once more into the whirlwind of life rather than the ordered march to death. The question, then, is what will we do, what path will we take, what choice will we make, in which world will we live?
Prayer: Dear God, overcome our fear of the unknown so that we may receive the promise of abundant life with joy, even if it means surrendering our sense of control. In Jesus’ name, Amen.