Eileen Utton was our guest pastor yesterday. She really got me thinking, which I like when I go to church. This was her scripture and her illustration from Dorotheus.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
–Matthew 5:38-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
This is a really hard scripture. If you are going feel free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to live by this is a great place to start. There is no “unless” in this scripture, no qualifiers. He doesn’t say “Love your enemies unless they are persecuting other Christians, or unless they want to harm you.” It is easy to love my enemies from a distance, like praying for ISIS, but what about the guy who is breaking into my house to steal from me or cause me bodily harm. Does Jesus not want me to defend myself? Am I trying to compromise with God if I have a concealed carry permit? Am I parsing the Word if I support our military? Am I supposed to give money to every single one of the people I see in parking lots and on street corners? And is Jesus really serious when He tells us to loan money to anyone who asks? Seems foolish to me.
I don’t know the answers to these questions.
I know that Biblical perfection is a process, a growing and maturing in the Word. I know that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect right now (good thing!). I know that “fear” and “love” are opposites, that I can’t love if I am full of fear. I know that it is easy to say “I love everybody” the same way I say “I love ice cream” but what does that really mean? What is it to feel that kind of love?
I love this illustration from Dorotheus of Gaza, a 6th century monk:
From The Letter from Calcutta:
“Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”
I have always seen this example one way, that the closer we are to God the closer we are to each other. But today I saw the last sentence as more significant, that the closer we get to other people, the closer we are to God. So maybe the solution, or at least on the way to the solution, is getting close to other people, not as groups but as individuals. It is much harder to judge an individual’s race, gender, preferences, income level, appearance, or religion than it is to judge a group. I need to look people in the eye and see them as unique beings, loved by God as much as I am.