DOING WHAT GOD DOES
When I first read our gospel for this morning I was blown away. Turn the other cheek. If someone takes my coat give them my shirt. Come on Jesus. I may be one of your followers, even a pastor, but this is impossible. I do not naturally bless those who curse me. Jesus you are telling me that when these things happen the Kingdom of God is happening. That sounds wonderful, but if brings me up short. Jesus are you just trying to tell me that no human being can fully live in the Kingdom of God? Are you trying to show me no matter how much I try to look good I really fall short of the glory of God stand in the need of forgiveness?
But could there be something much deeper happening here. I think there is.
Let’s begin with Jesus’ reaction to his tormentors when he was being prepared for and dealing with his crucifixion.
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. He absorbed their abuse, when they spat on him and ridiculed him by dressing him up like a King and they thrust a Crown of Thorns on his head. They took away his robe and gambled over who could have it to keep at the foot of the Cross. They beat his body with 39 lashes and affixed him to a Cross with nails going through his wrists and feet. And what did he say once on the Cross in the air? “Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”
And when he breathed his last a hardened Roman Soldier proclaimed; “This man was truly the Son of God.”
I believe we can find in these words a promise. All of you know how the world behaves. All of you how Russia is going to behave once their tanks roll into Ukraine. But Jesus is promising a different world by modelling its actions. There is another option. We can treat others the way we want to be treated. There is enough, more than enough—love, attention, food, worth, honor, time—to go around. No matter how hard you play by the rules of this world you’re still trapped in the death and loss that is part and parcel of this world. But this world isn’t the only one, there is another world that is eternal even now.
Jesus isn’t offering a set of simple rules by which we can get by or even get ahead in this world but is inviting us into a whole new world, an eternal one. This world is not about measuring and counting and weighing and competing and judging and paying back and hating and all the rest. But instead, it is about love. Love for those who have loved you. Love for those who haven’t. Love even for those who hate you. This love gets expressed in all kinds of creative ways, and often comes through by caring—extending care and compassion and help and comfort to those in need—and forgiveness—not paying back but instead releasing one’s claim on another and opening up a future where a relationship as love is still possible.
In a mechanical universe love begats love, hate beget hate; deeds both good and bad are repaid in kind. But in the Kingdom of God a new reality bursts forth.
There was once a couple lived next store to an evil talking vile lady who threw abuse across the fence every time she got on a temper tantrum. Suddenly, and unexpectedly one of her sons died with a drug overdose. The wife of the family who had quietly taken her abuse for a long time called the mother on the phone and shared how sad she was that her son had died. The mother broke down with tears, and said, “For years I have been hateful with you, and yet today in my most vulnerable time you gave me love. Please forgive me, and thanks for caring.” From that day forward the relationship between the two families got better.
So, is this a command or promise by Jesus? If it is a command—that is, one more thing someone has told us and we’ll be held accountable if we do not fulfill it then maybe out of fear, we will try harder. But if it is a promise, then we might just imagine there is another world, an eternal one then we might realize that new world is available right now. Perhaps we can begin to see each other, even those we do not particularly like and discover healthy relationships we did not even dream were possible.
This text brings me closer to Jesus. I want him to take over more of my life that I might experience life more abundantly and treat all people like I would like to be treated, and who knows what might happen in the world that is so in longing for new life in midst of darkness. Amen.