“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; 40 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. “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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Twenty-six years. That is the amount of time the average person will spend during his or her life time in bed sleeping. Twenty-six years. On top of that, the average person spends about seven years in bed trying to fall asleep, when clearly they could just come to church and I could help them with that every Sunday. We now spend about 11 years of our life staring at screens both at work and home. Someone right now is thinking, I have to Google that - go ahead, I'll wait. And finally, rounding out the top four ways/places where we spend most of our life. No, it is not church meetings. We spend four and half years eating. When I think of my life that way, it makes me just want to get a piece of chocolate and go back to bed. Yet, in the midst of our everyday lives, waking and walking in this world, no wonder time feels like one of our most valuable gifts. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to take the world as we know it and turn it upside down. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to call, "Beloved," those people and places where it feels so far from the truth, now, Jesus goes and says that invitation isn’t only for those who we like, but also those who frustrate and flummox and down right infuriate us. Love your enemies? Really, Jesus? I have to wonder how many people in the crowd on that mountain that day decided, “That’s it. Zachariah go warm up the camel, we are outta here.” Two thousand years later, and I don’t think we struggle any less with this teaching.
Remember, it isn’t like things were so much easier in Jesus’ good ole days. The people who he was preaching to had been overthrown, occupied, run over and ruled by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, the Greeks, and now Rome. Rome was particularly creative with its harsh rules and taxes. Throughout this sermon Jesus continually, constantly takes the accepted and agreed upon truths and turns them on their head. Think about those things your grandmother or grandfather used to say. A penny saved is a penny earned. Or everything in moderation. Or wisdom is easy to carry but difficult to gather. Or when my personal favorite when my grandmother was happy she would say, “Well that just dills my pickle.” Still makes me laugh. Jesus, however, was challenging and confronting the normal, natural order of eye-for-eye justice. The original intent of saying, "eye-for-an-eye" was to cease a cycle of violence. If you hurt or harm my hand, and I, in turn, injure your whole arm, and then you go for my knees, it spirals out of control so quickly. We see that all the time today, it is called Twitter, or just about any social media. Jesus says, it is better to not even buy the ticket to ride that train. Wait. If we are to step out of a myth of redemptive violence, what does that mean? Jesus give three examples. First, if someone strikes you on your right cheek, offer the left. If someone takes your shirt, give them your cloak. If someone demands you to go a mile, offer to go two. Two things. First, this isn’t just good advice. No one will say to any of these, well that just dills my pickle. And not only because no one says that any more. This is never going to be something that socially is acceptable or even easy. Hold onto that. Second, if you let these settle and dive a bit deeper into each, we might see just how difficult and demanding these are.
Take the first one, striking a person on his or her right cheek was usually done with the back of a hand. It wasn’t seen as something violent. Rather, that was what you did to someone inferior when she or he insulted you. But to give offer your left cheek, you are now implying equality because the person would need to use the palm of the hand, and now you have upped the ante to a violent act. Or as Rev. Dr. King said, The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence, it is nonviolence or nonexistence. When offering the other cheek, you are not being a doormat, you are demanding the other person see you in your full humanity. The same is true with the garment. In a world where most people only had one set of clothes. In a world where you had only one shirt, if someone sued you for that, to also give your cloak meant you were naked as the day you were born. Who says Bible study is boring. And to be naked in public meant that the shame and blame now shifted to the one you just handed your clothes. Finally, while Roman soldiers could demand you carry his pack for one mile, the rules were crystal clear that one mile was the limit. To go another mile meant you are putting the solider in a position where he could be punished for breaking the law. Each of these are about turning the table and creatively confronting the powers that be. You don’t just go along, to get along, grumbling under your breath, Jesus says. Live into your full humanity, but be careful that in your response you don’t create more hurt and harm. Be careful that we don’t perpetuate the truth that brokenness begets brokenness. As the wisdom goes, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. As the wisdom goes, there are three stages for God, impossible, difficult, and done.
Yet still I find loving my enemies somewhere in-between impossible and difficult. There are people who seem to never run out of creative ways to frustrate me. It is amazing. There are people who continually say things that offend. Their comments are like a thousand paper cuts on my soul. And I want to say, “Come on Jesus, really, love this person? Can’t I get a pass? I promise to love this other person twice as much to make up for it.” Now usually, this is the point in the post, where I am supposed to serve up some wisdom that ties this messy passage up with a neat and tidy bow. Here is the take home practice that will make your life easier, guaranteed. And when that doesn’t work with your cousin Amos, well that’s on you, because clearly I have Jesus on my side saying we have to do it. But loving our enemies is never going to be good advice, it will never be common sense, it will never be at the top of the ways we want to spend our thirty some odd years of life that we are actually awake not eating or staring at a screen. We would rather hang out with those who see the world like us and who don’t cause such pain. Perhaps there are two things that help me. First, when you think of that person, because I know you all have a cousin Amos who you want to offer as exhibit A why these words of Jesus should just be left aside. Maybe loving that person doesn’t just happen in the blink of an eye or because Jesus says so but is a process. If I can find a small insight into why Amos is the way Amos is, perhaps that is God’s epiphany light. Rather than letting Amos’ latest, greatest insult wake me up at three a.m. going over all my witty sarcastic comebacks, but instead laugh thinking, “He just never runs out of material.” Maybe, just maybe, I can move one half of a millimeter toward love. Second, I hold onto people who I thought were impossible to love but have found ways nevertheless with God’s grace to move small steps forward. Rather than thinking about all the exceptions, maybe there might be an example of someone who over years, many years, you have found ways to embody God’s presence? This is what makes faith compelling to me. This is what keeps faith dynamic, not dormant. This is what challenges me to commit my energy toward that which might actually make the world shift in new ways. And if not the world, at least a bit how I deal with Amos. And if that could happen, it truly would dill my pickle. Amen.