Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Last week, Jesus told us to beware of anger, infidelity and swearing oaths. This week, it’s turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile and give until you’re naked & broke.
This is our 4th week of Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount and it just keeps getting harder. One writer describes it as Jesus at his ornery best.
Another says, this where we want to throw up our hands and say, really Jesus, we give up. This way of life is impossible. Or we start to look for ways to take the edge off.
Sure, we saw this way of life lived out in Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela – but they were modern day superheroes and we are just ordinary human beings.
But Easter is just around the corner, and we remember that Jesus was spat on, slapped, his cloak and his life taken away. So, if God comes close to us in Jesus, loves the unlovable, suffers our worst and still rises to forgive, surely we can have another crack at being followers of Jesus, children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit.
So today, we will try to engage the gospel without watering it down or explaining it away –and maybe, provide a tool to help us on the way. We begin by putting the reading into the context of Jesus day. Israel is occupied by the Roman Empire.
By now, most of us know that turning the other cheek refers to non-violent resistance when being backhanded someone who feels superior. Turning the other cheek – the left cheek – requires the abuser to hit us as an equal if he is to strike again.
We also know that Roman soldiers were allowed to force people to carry their packs for one mile. So Jesus tells people to go an extra mile – a non-violent response that shifts from something forced to something chosen.
Most people in the ancient world owned two items of clothing: a coat and a cloak. If a debt was owed, the money lender was allowed to take the cloak from the debtor and lend it out for profit during the day but it had to be given back by nightfall. If someone asks for your cloak, says Jesus, give him your coat as well. You may be naked but you also expose the injustice of exploiting the poor.
Together, today’s instructions offer a way of deep resistance, of non-cooperation. Do not fight fire with fire, says Jesus. Fight fire with water.* Refuse to participate in the usual fire of injury and domination.
(*Matthew Boulton – Feasting On The Word)
Okay, so we can understand the ideal. Jesus wants his followers to be non-violent resisters in the face of aggression and injustice. Although it helps that we aren’t a persecuted people living in an occupied land, its still a challenge to live up to Jesus’ expectations. Just staying in control of our emotions so that we don’t retaliate and become part of the problem is not an easy thing. This is where we borrow the stream of consciousness image from the very popular Franciscan Friar, Richard Rohr.
Imagine a river or stream. You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats are sailing past. Imagine each boat having a name, like: “my anxiety about tomorrow”, “my anger”, “my resentment” and so on.
In the same way that suicide intervention teaches us to stay on the river bank and never get in the water with the person we are trying to help, Richard Rohr says the trick is to see the vessel of emotion flowing downstream, recognize the idea or emotion, and let it pass while we stay safely on the shore.
Its so easy to jump on one of those boats and let it carry us away. But when we do that, we allow it to control us and it picks up energy.
To live the Jesus way, we must practise seeing and naming the boats as they go by and then saying “No, that’s not me. I’m not getting on that boat. I’m not going to jump on the boat of anger or violence or resentment or despair.” Once we learn to do this, we are free to make better choices as children of God.
Sometimes we want to sink the boats that annoyingly keep returning, but that’s not helpful either, for we are in basic training in non-violence and we must not hate our own soul. (Richard Rohr) If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into our other relationships.
Why would we want to go to all this trouble to live the Jesus way?
Because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. And that makes us children of God. We are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in us. And we are called to be perfect as God is perfect; not “perfect” as in getting all the details just right, but perfect in love.
So, we are called to love as God loves, without favour. God makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the righteous and on the unrighteous. God is loving to all. And so we become aware of our thoughts and feelings so that we can be mindful of our responses. We try to think of others in every decision we make so that our every action takes into account the common good.
So Jesus is calling us to maturity that results in God-like behaviours.
Our capacity for this kind of love comes from God, who is love.