Eye for an eye?
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. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.-Matthew 5:38-42
Every now and then, when I’m trying to take in some of Jesus’ teaching, I confess a need to pull the guy aside and fill him in on how life really works. The gospels tell us that his family members and his disciples occasionally tried to do the same thing. I want to inform him of what it’s like to walk city streets where there is someone asking for money on each corner, or where disheveled persons stand at busy intersections with scrawled signs requesting help. I want to clue Jesus in that I just can’t give to any random person. I just can’t give to everyone.
Today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount is just one more example of Jesus calling us to a higher standard, that expansive and rigorous standard of love. Again, he quotes the law, which said an eye for an eye, etc. That has been interpreted in our culture as permission for revenge. I’m told that its original intent was to limit vengeful spirit, so that in responding to injury, one was not allowed to exceed the injury in that response.
But then we hear those words that make us sit up and take notice. Jesus says: But I say to you…
And here’s what Jesus has to say: Don’t resist an evildoer. Turn the other cheek. Give extravagantly. Give more than one asks. Have you seen that in action? Jesus talked about such in parables, like the father of the prodigal son, who welcomes his boy home with a grand party, before the kid even has a chance to explain himself, apologize or ask forgiveness. It’s the story of the bishop at the beginning of Les Miserables who is robbed by a guest and when the culprit is brought back before him, the Bishop gives even more silver to the thief, showing grace instead of vengeance, mercy instead of judgment. It’s Ted Lasso immediately offering forgiveness to the club owner who had messed with him. When this kind of thing happens, it’s notable. In fact, extraordinary. And on some level, it makes little sense. Where have you seen amazing grace?
We run across Jesus’ rigorous standard in the promises of baptism. We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, not just the ones we like, not just those we deem deserving. We promise to respect the dignity of every human being, even those that we think are undignified.
Like the call to love God with all our heart, soul and strength, like the call to love neighbor as self, this call to extravagant generosity may not be fully realized by any of us in this lifetime. But it is the goal Jesus sets for us, illustrated in his arms stretched out on the cross. I’m not sure what to make of this high bar that Jesus sets. I miss the mark daily.
But I guess we face this choice. We can look for ways to limit our generosity, to try to figure out whether the person asking for assistance deserves it, or will use it according to our wise standards, or will ask again. Or we can look for ways to be generous.
Perhaps it’s not in our wheelhouse to be totally unconditional in our generosity. But we can try to move in that direction, with God’s help. How about starting each day this week with a prayer that we might have at least one opportunity to practice the kind of amazing grace that Jesus advocates in this sermon?
Good Book Club to start 2022 with Exodus
Start the new year with a renewed spiritual practice of reading God’s Word. Forward Movement, with support from partners from around the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, will celebrate the time of Epiphany with a new round of the Good Book Club by reading the first half of the Book of Exodus.
Exodus recounts the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. We hear the great stories of Moses, from his discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter on the bank of the river to the burning bush to his presentation of the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we encounter God’s covenant and explore the grand theme of redemption.
This year, we have a bonus time of scripture engagement: the Good Book Club will dive into the first twenty chapters of Exodus from Epiphany, January 6, to Shrove Tuesday, March 1. For those who want to keep reading, we’ll offer a daily reading guide and an overview of the second half of Exodus. That reading period will conclude on Easter.
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Joining the Good Book Club is easy: Open your Bible and start reading!