,Sunday 20 February 2022
But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
As we listen to the news, we hear of autocratic leaders around the world threatening to invade other nations, intimidating smaller nations by massing thousands of troops and weapons on their borders, flying into the air space or sailing into the territorial waters of other nations without permission. As we listen to the news, we hear of people all over the world questioning the future of democracy and whether what we call democracy is really just the rich getting their way and those who get justice are those who can pay for it and those who get health care are those who can afford it. “Why God?” We ask.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “I say to you who listen.” or as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Let those of you who have ears hear.” Or as Eugene Peterson translates it, ‘To you who are ready for the truth.’ Jesus speaks to those who want to hear, who want to understand, who want to follow Jesus, who seek a peaceful and just and equitable way in the world, who seek the way of God.
We who hear these words today have an advantage over those who first heard these words. Alongside these words we hold the story of the cross. When you have an eye test the optometrist places different strength lenses in front of each eye to see what strength lenses you need in your glasses to optimise your sight so you can see clearly, whether close up to read or to see things in the distance. As followers of Jesus when we look at the world, we look through the lens of the cross. As we read passages such as this that make little sense to our thinking we see things very differently when we put on the lens of the cross. In the cross we see that Jesus is the one who truly loves his enemies. Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do, Jesus does it. Jesus leads the way. Jesus takes the way of the cross.
Michael Hardin says, in relation to this passage, that- The cross of Jesus shatters worldviews. The shattering comes in the act of reconciliation, even as he was dying, seeking forgiveness. If you understand this, then you understand the Gospel and are being transformed by it.
What Jesus says seems almost impossible: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you. Jesus’ words tell us what God is like. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us the extent of God’s love, and the vast difference between what we think love is and God’s love.
When we see nations threatening to go to war, intimidating others, and ask why does God allow this, as if God were somehow in control of the actions of all people, we have to be reminded of the cross. Jesus turns the other check, these leaders do not. At a time when the whole world is struggling with a worldwide plague and the threat of total environmental destruction it is not God who is doing these things but people who are threatening the survival of the world. It is people who refuse to turn the other cheek. It is people who refuse to love their enemies. It is people who refuse to be reconciled. Jesus came to save not to condemn and destroy. This is the way of salvation. Our salvation is not simply believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It is taking up our cross, following Jesus’ example. By doing the opposite of what comes naturally to us, by doing the unexpected, we find the salvation Jesus offers the world. Our enemies are not Russia or China or Al Qaeda or ISIS but the principalities and powers behind them moving them in ways that are contrary to the ways of Jesus. Our battle ground is the cross. Our challenge is to lay down our lives at the foot of the cross, to love, to pray, to forgive, to bless, to do good in the face of evil.
Psalm 37 offers us comfort and encouragement today - Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, trust in the Lord, and do good; take delight in the Lord, commit your way to the Lord. Trust in God, be still before the Lord and wait patiently for God, take refuge in God.
In ten days’ time we will begin Lent, the journey towards the cross. Our eyes must always focus on the cross and see life through the cross, for the journey to the cross brings with it the hope of resurrection, the hope of salvation for the world, hope for the future of the earth, the leaving aside of the ways of violence and the taking up of the way of love, the way of Christ.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation