Matthew 5:38-47 (Responsive)
Listen to the teaching of Jesus! “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
MESSAGE “What You Have Heard” (part 2) Rev. James R. Renfrew
What have you heard? Jesus knows what you’ve heard! He knows that a lot of us accept an old idea: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. When he says this Jesus is referring to the entire history of law up until that moment. The laws of the great civilizations – Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome – had a simple way for settling conflict: punishment in equal measure to the crime. So simple. If someone pokes you in the eye – poke them back! If someone hits you and you lose a tooth, you have every right to take a tooth from the one who did it to you. Has someone wronged you like that? Well you’re in luck. For worship I brought a sharp stick and a wrench, for poking someone in the eye and for pulling out one of their teeth. Anyone need one of these this morning?
But, hold on, Jesus has something to say about what you have heard. Jesus knows what you have heard, but he’s got something new for you to think about! An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth means that EVERYONE eventually becomes blind and toothless. We need to be a church that works to improve eyesight, not take it away. We need to be a church that keeps everyone smiling with a full set of beautiful teeth, not pulling them out.
I once taught a 3rd grade class at #43 school in Rochester. Every one of the kids believed in a certain common sense truth: If someone hurts you, hurt them right back. It was the only solution to conflict that they could imagine. We spent 8 weeks in that class seeing how that approach leaves everyone blind and toothless. The hard part was finding a better way. If you’re having a conflict, what else can you do other than hit back fast and hard?
So we made a spinner. When you’re having a problem with someone, here are some new ways to deal with it. Spin, and try it out! I have the spinner with me today. Anyone want to try it? It’s fun and it works! “Take Turns”, “Ask for Help”, “50/50”, “Tell a joke”, “Flip a Coin”.
There’s something more in this reading from Matthew. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Have you heard that? Jesus knows that you have. It’s accepted as basic common sense. Love your neighbor and, of course, hate your enemy.
But then Jesus offers one of the most striking teachings in the entire Bible, maybe in the history of all teachings: But I say to you, “Love your enemy”. This is Jesus’ brilliant gift to everyone everywhere: the only way to break the cycle of violence in our world is to love your enemies. Is this absurd, impractical, and foolish? Some might think so. But to break the cycle of violence we cannot keep repeating the same mistakes. We need to break out of the old way of dealing with enemies to embrace a new way. Love your enemies. You know you might not believe in the divinity of Jesus, you may not believe in the resurrection, but “love your enemy” is something that we can believe in because it offers hope instead of destruction. Think about that word “enemy”. Do you have any? And how about this: does someone else in the world consider you an enemy? In light of what Jesus says, how are you going to live from now on? We all need a new way of living in the human family. Maybe we haven’t fully embraced what Jesus offers, but I hope we feel encouraged to sit at his table to learn more ….