Radical Newness in Jesus
Introduction: Today’s Gospel presents us with perhaps the most difficult part of Jesus’ entire teaching. But we have ways to deflect this teaching. In the past when I’ve asked Congregations, “how many of you have enemies?” Many say they do not have any enemies. No enemies, no need to love enemies.
Some people say that these words of Jesus are not to be understood literally but rather figuratively or symbolically. So if Jesus didn’t mean them literally we don’t have to love our enemies.
When we have difficulty with our friends, we sometimes say, “with friends like you who needs enemies?” Or sometimes we hear, “I have enough trouble loving my friends, let alone my enemies.” But in saying these things we are admitting that we are not living up to Jesus’ ideal. What would I have done had I been David in the first reading? We heard that his enemy was at his mercy, he spared him. What would I have done?
Ours is not a time that encourages forgiveness or love of enemies. Ours is a time of law suits. Someone harms you, “sue them”. I saw a pretty woman go by in a car the other day. As she sped on ahead of me I noticed the bumper sticker, “I don’t get mad I get even.” Think back on the war against Sadam Hussein. The American solution, “kill him.” How many pictures have you seen with Sadam Hussein with a bull’s eye on him? In Israel we hear daily, “An Israeli was killed.” The response is to kill as many Arabs as possible. Retaliation it is called. It is the principle of unlimited vengeance.
We have this principle illustrated in the book of Genesis. If someone harms you, you kill them, their whole family even their whole tribe. But in the bible there is a development in the way we treat others. Some people are still living out this first primitive stage.
The principle of an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is found in the book of Deuteronomy. It was to limit vengeance. You could return as you had received. Many people are still living this principle out.
In the book of Sirach we have what’s called the “silver rule” “Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do to you.” If I don’t want people calling me names, I don’t call them names.
In the Gospel today we heard the “golden rule” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I want to be treated with respect by another, then I treat the other with respect. I don’t get in the position of always trying to be up and them down. I listen and treat others with respect.
But what do we see in the world in which we live? The heavy weight boxer Michael Tyson bit off a part of his opponent’s ear. We have the now famous scenes of policemen in California beating a black man senseless after a chase. We also have seen the pictures of the illegal immigrants in California (caught after a chase) they too were beaten unmercifully. We could continue to multiply the examples. What are the attitudes that adults are communicating to young people today?
We do have some examples of a different way of life. Terry Anderson one of the hostages in Lebanon, when asked how he felt toward his captors said, “I forgive them, I have to I’m a Christian.” We also have the example of the black man who was dragged to his death by people in a Texas city. His sister said, “I am a follower of Jesus I have to forgive them.” A college student was brutally beaten and killed on campus, his mother and sister said “we forgive his murderers and are working to see that it doesn’t happen again.” There is a group of parents and spouses of the people that died in 9/11 that have visited the families of those who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. They offer consolation. These kinds of examples too can be multiplied. But to many people these are examples of weakness not of strength. To many, maybe to us, they are seen as foolish.
My mother often times would tell us, “You are your own worst enemy.” So we need to examine our attitudes toward ourselves and toward others. Jesus’ teaching at times leads people to stay in an abusive relationship. People are abused physically, psychologically and sexually in a relationship. This is not the time to turn the other cheek. This is the time to get out.