38‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
So, we continue with the “Don’t Attitudes” and encounter a couple more challenging ones.
Exodus 21 tells us that if someone is injured by another then the person who has caused the injury should have the same injury caused to him/her. When we take that out of the context of the legal system, with guidance to those sentencing offenders, then we turn a tool of guidance into an opportunity for personal vengeance. Deuteronomy 32 tells us “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord”. That is echoed by the comments of Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount. As followers of the intent of the law, rather than the letter of the law, we should not take upon ourselves any actions, or words, which can be construed as taking the law into our own hands. However bad, inefficient or biassed we may feel the legal system is, we should separate dealing with offenders from dealing with the failures of the legal system. Mahatma Ghandi was, potentially incorrectly, reported to have said that if we follow the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth then we would quickly have a blind and toothless society. Given that a very similar statement was made by a member of the government of Canada in 1914 about his fellow members I have to wonder if the same might not be said following the shenanigans in the Australian Parliament.
Verse 42 reminds me of a story about a woman who wasn’t sure where her next meal would come from because she was so poor. She had attended a meeting on a cold winter evening and was walking home when she came across a old man shivering in the cold for lack of a coat. She gave him hers, thinking that she would soon be home and out of the cold, though still hungry. When she got inside she discovered the table laid out and a nutritious meal ready to serve, with a “Thank you” note. You might have heard variations on this story, but it just shows that when we offer help to those who are begging we might just be offering help to Christ Himself.
That leads nicely into the real challenge for all of us: love your enemy. It comes back to the idea of separating the sinner from the sin. If we separate our “enemies” from what we perceive as things they shouldn’t have done, whether that perception is correct or not, then we can love the person despite the sin. In fact, it’s more important that we love that person if we believe he/she has been misled and fallen into bad ways, because that love may just help to restore a great relationship with God. Unconditional love is hard: I would never claim that it isn’t, but isn’t God unconditionally loving of us – just like a devoted parent loving an errant son or daughter despite the frustration of seeing someone close go ‘off the rails’, and aren’t we all called to do His will? When we say the Lord’s Prayer, do we really mean “Your will be done” even when it conflicts with ours?