Monday, 24 February 2014

Love, contrarily

Matthew 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.’

Never mind the Mount, I have always imagined Matthew's Jesus on the stage - as an expansive orator, full of metaphorical exaggeration. Certainly a keen match for any heckler - who would dare?

I have read that this sort of confrontational exhortation is typical of scriptural debate at the time; the performance as measured as the words. I have read that the examples given by Jesus place the 'enemy' in a state of shame or embarrassment. The radical, the rebel would want to believe it but I wonder if that is what Jesus intended.

Jesus says 'love'; love your enemy; love your persecutors; love those who don't love you. And you can't do that from a distance. It takes courage, it takes spirit, it takes faith - and hope. And to have any hope at all - you have to get up close and personal. 

We see bullying and angry confrontation all the time. Those that stand in self-satisfied authority over others draw a wide line between 'them and us'. The time needed between the first strike on the cheek and the second invitation to what amounts to a friendly caress may be days, but could be months, even years. It takes time and commitment to face up to anger, hurt, resentment, -to do the work that leads to understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation and trust. 

When you offer your cloak as payment, under the Law you are entitled to have it back during the hours of darkness. What could happen at these times of exchange? An understanding of circumstances; an appreciation of how others live; a consideration of how much we want and how little we need. The realisation that giving back is far more satisfying that taking away. 

There are many times we find ourselves in places we didn't choose to be. When you are forced into the first mile see it as a beginning; both parties hating the journey for different reasons, like so many of those road movies where two come together with different, oppositional, reasons for the journey. But to journey together brings awareness of strengths and weaknesses; allows for intimacy and appreciation of the other.  The knowledge that we can't do everything by ourselves is a shared experience. Then, at a pivotal moment, almost instinctively, we find ourselves walking in step with each other with a common vision, offering the helping hand, the steadying shoulder. 

Up close and personal takes courage. The need to know that we are right is the biggest wall that we can build. Building bridges needs both sides to come together yet ego demands that we are justified. 

The first step in love takes vulnerability not defiance. 

Jesus asks a lot, perhaps that's why the exhortation. The perfection, the maturity that Jesus speaks of is his Father's willingness to be vulnerable. To love unconditionally with no guarantee of return. To give and to give and to not turn away. We can't do that on our own.

To make your enemy your brother and your sister - that's exceptional - that's grace.



Claire Bangasser said...

Excellent post, Word. Very seminal. Thank you :-)

Gelli Ma said...

Thank you Claire - a real compliment ;-))