We’re being challenged this week. Jesus is relentless in his teaching. “Love your enemies.” “Bless those who curse you.” “Give to everyone who asks of you.” “Stop judging.” “Stop condemning.”
He gets more specific. “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well.” “From the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” “Lend expecting nothing back.”
When we truly listen to Jesus’ teachings it’s appropriate for us to be disturbed. If any of us think we’re loving people, we hear him challenging our love. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” If we think we’re generous, giving people we’re quickly stung by his words. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.”
Jesus can’t be any more direct when he demands, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful!” He defines merciful when he reminds us that the Father is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
Where do we go with these teachings? Is Jesus teaching a Gospel for Patsies? Is he saying that we should allow the arrogant, the violent, and thieves to use us and walk all over us? I don’t think so. But what’s the driving force behind his teachings?
When Jesus sent out 72 of his disciples on a missionary journey, he clearly cautioned them, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” He knew about opposition and danger. The scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees and the religious leaders in general, followed him around, heckling him as he spoke. He knew that each time he beat them at their own game and embarrassed them before the crowds, that he was stoking their loathing of him.
Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to do anything he didn’t do. He was a fearless lamb among wolves. He never fought them by using their weapons. He fought them with the truth. He fought them with love. He rebuked the disciple who drew his sword to defend him during his arrest. “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” But he spoke his greatest testimony to love from the cross:
“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” I think we’re deceiving ourselves if we think that Jesus’ message was not radical. Saint Paul understood Jesus’ message and methodology very well. He laid it our clearly and simply in his letter to the Christian community in Rome.
“Let your love be sincere. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12: 9, 14, 17, 20, 21) “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12)
Take some time to look around. Look at the wars taking place in our political world. Look at the battles among races and cultures going on. Look at the stubborn cancers of anti -Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. As followers of Jesus, how do we engage in battle with these global malignancies?
We can’t take sides on the political battlefield because both sides come from a place of anger, hate, duplicity, lies, and violence. Both sides are using these weapons against each other. We have to drive away fear with understanding. We have to destroy lies with the truth. We have to fight violence with forgiveness. We have to “put on the armor of light.” We have to confront evil from a place of love. We have to “put on Christ.” We have to commit ourselves to the power of love. Everything we do must be an echo Jesus’ command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”