Sunday, 19 February 2017

More than that

GospelMatthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
  ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

I often wonder where Jesus, and Christianity, got the 'meek and mild' reputation from.Whoever decided that the pastoral imagery, flowing robes, decorous manner and dewy eyes were an accurate depiction of the historical Jesus was either someone with a taste for romance or someone who realised how dangerous Jesus really was.

This idealised imagery proves that often we don't like the Jesus that the Gospel tells us about, because, let's be honest, Jesus is not always likeable; he does not give us the words we want to hear or the advice we want to take. 

How often when Jesus makes statements like these we prefer not to take them seriously. We think, sometimes we are encouraged to think, that it's all about metaphor; Jesus is just making a point - exaggerating for the sake of emphasis. That all he wants is for us to be good.

We know when we are being good; taking care of our own; making the best of our talents; taking part in our community. All very good attributes; but no more than we should be doing; no more than anyone else; no more than anyone who didn't know Jesus; no more than anyone who had not been awakened to God. What we call 'being good' is the desired human condition. 

Jesus doesn't want us to be good - he wants us to be better than that - his ambition for us goes beond all that - he wants us to be 'perfect' (a bad translation -  more likely meaning mature or adult). 

We should not need to be liked to like; we should not need to be loved to love; we should not need our own need to be fulfilled before we recognise that others have needs. 

In particular it should not matter who the others are because we know who we are - beloved children of God. 

It is this confidence in God's Love that Jesus tries to instill in us - the confidence that he has in his Father, that allows him to call, with joyful expectation, on the grace and healing that is then gifted to anyone who asks - all strangers; many enemies; pagans and Jews, honest and dishonest people alike. 

It's much harder for us, I feel like a hypocrite even writing this being, like Paul, very aware that I spend my life doing what I shouldn't and not doing what I should. We can't do this on our own and we are not meant to. Yet Jesus has faith in us and offers us the same channel to the grace that gives him confidence. 

Jesus gives us his own prayer of praise and reconciliation. If you can stand up, arms open wide, calling out not to Father but to Abba, Daddy, then you can stand up to the world. 

Whatever the world thinks it is doing to you; you cannot be pushed; ordered about; stolen from or exploited; you cannot be made 'less' because it just doesn't matter - you are loved. 

You are loved with a love that births love. Unselfish - it seeks to create peace and pardon where there is injury and hatred. In the words of St Francis - as prayed by Mother Teresa to the United Nations in 1985 - and needed, more than ever, today

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort that to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Amen indeed.

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