Sermon on the Mount — 3

Monday, June 18

Read: Matthew 5:43-47

Consider: Loving your enemies is not for the faint of heart. It takes great courage because it runs contrary to the values of our world. It’s obvious that the “heroes” of our culture are not those who have loved their enemies. They are the ones who have defeated or destroyed their enemies. Go to the movies. Watch television drama. Read novels. You will see that we are certainly not looking for heroes who will turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). The 2000 movie, The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, is a classic example. It tells the story of a man whose faith caused him to refuse going to war. He becomes the hero after he abandons that stance. Then he is deemed worthy of our admiration.

We seem to be confused about what strength really is. We associate Christ’s teaching with some form of weakness or cowardice. We think that Jesus is asking us to give up our dignity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This week we consider what may be the most difficult section of the Sermon on the Mount—loving our enemies. Yet, this is one of the things that distinguishes our Christian faith from the ideologies of this world. As Jesus put it…

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

These are hard words. There is nothing easy about this kind of love. It takes great courage and great humility. But, above all, it takes great dependence on the only one who can teach us to love like that.

Pray: “Lord, I’m grateful for your patience with me. I have not mastered the art of loving my enemies. Sometimes I’m not convinced it is possible. And yet, because you call me to this way of life, I will listen, follow and obey. I ask for courage and for the humility to know that this only happens as you love through me. Show me your grace so that I may be a channel of that grace to our world.”

 

Tuesday, June 19

Read: Matthew 5:38-45 and Romans 12:17-21

Consider: Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies is not only difficult, but it can be confusing, particularly when we read that Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person” (5:39). What always comes to my mind is a famous quote, usually attributed to Edmund Burke, which states that “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I also think of the many times that Martin Luther King was emphatic on the necessity of opposition. Dr. King believed that “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

So why would Jesus say, “Do not resist an evil person”?

From the wording and the context, we see that what Jesus was saying is that we must not resist an evil person in-kind. In other words, we do not respond to evil persons in the manner that they came against us. If we do, we are just like them. This is reflected in Paul’s words…

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)

When we act like our enemy we become like our enemy. If we “fight fire with fire,” we have relinquished the high ground. We’re no longer the “good guy,” we’re just one of two guys who are living contrary to the way of Jesus. So, Jesus is teaching us that we must figure out how to overcome evil without becoming evil—how to resist an evil person, but not in-kind.

Loving our enemies not only takes courage, it takes creativity. We cannot return slander for slander, anger for anger, gossip for gossip, violence for violence. Rather, we depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us and to teach us how to “overcome evil with good.” This will look very different from the ways of our world.

If we do the right thing in the wrong way, it is no longer right.

Pray: Ask the Lord to purify your motives, and in the process, to purify your methods. Ask for a great and passionate resistance to evil in your spirit that will result in actions that could never construed as evil. Ask him to help you love your enemies.

 

Wednesday, June 20

Read: Matthew 5:38-41

Consider: Jesus gave us three examples of how we might be creative in our resistance to evil. The first example is that of turning the other cheek. Jesus lived in a right-handed culture. (In fact, the left hand was seen as the one you would use for “unclean” actions.) So, if someone were to strike you “on the right cheek,” they would be hitting you with the back of their right hand—which was a reprimand, or an insult given to slaves and others who were considered to be inferior. Jesus said you don’t respond by back-handing that person. Rather, you turn the other cheek. In so doing you’re saying, “I’m not inferior to you. I’m made in God’s image. If you’re going to insult me, you will at least do it as an equal with an open hand on my left cheek.”

The instruction to turn the other cheek was not a command to become a doormat or to invite abuse. It was a command to creatively show courage rather than cowardly returning evil for evil. It was a command to retain your dignity—to stand up against evil—without stealing the dignity of your enemy.

That was, and continues to be, revolutionary. Look at our politics. Our leaders spend vast sums of money to do “opposition research” so that they may demean their opponents. A great amount of cable news time is spent tearing others down, so that a certain viewpoint will appear better. Even our comedy is largely aimed at humiliating people. That’s wrong, even if we are trying to humiliate evil people.

Is there someone showing contempt for you and harming you in some manner? How can you retain your dignity without robbing them of theirs? You must creatively find a way to say, “I’m made in God’s image. You’re made in God’s image. We’re better than how you’re treating me. Now, let’s start acting like it.” You may say that in words, or you may simply say it with your actions. But in so doing, you are keeping the spirit of Jesus’ words when he instructed us to turn the other cheek.

Pray: Pray for guidance as to how you may creatively resist evil. Perhaps you are not going through a time when you are facing that kind of adversity. Then pray for someone you know who is. Ask God to be honored in your life and in theirs.

 

Thursday, June 21

Read: Matthew 5:38-41 and Romans 12:20

Consider: The second example that Jesus gave to instruct us in resisting evil, came in one sentence.

“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:40)

Jesus was teaching a simple, but profound, concept: righteousness exposes evil for what it is.

Jesus was describing a despicable act, that of a wealthy person trying to take everything he can from a poor man. The poor person is in debt to the rich man and does not own anything but the clothes on his back. If he had owned land or animals, the wealthy person would be suing him for those things. But all he owns is his tunic and his cloak—his clothes and his outer garment. The cloak was not only his coat, but it was his sleeping bag as well—his covering to protect him from the cold of night. There was a law in those days that said if someone gave you his cloak as a pledge for a debt, you would have to return it before night fall. No one should be naked in the cold of night.

So, Jesus is painting a picture of a vindictive person. Obviously, the poor man’s ragged clothes are worth nothing to the rich man. But the rich man wants to see the poor man pay and suffer. So, he hauls him into court, takes from him everything he can—even suing him for his tunic, though he cannot take his cloak. Jesus said, “If that happens to you, give him everything. Give him your cloak, as well. In showing that you won’t be vindictive in return, you reveal the depth of his evil.”

I think that this is in line with Paul’s quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22…

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head (Romans 12:20)

Hopefully, the burning coals will lead your enemy to repentance. But if not, you have still fulfilled Christ’s mandate of using creative, righteous means to expose and oppose evil.

Now keep in mind that Jesus is using examples to convey a concept. This is not instruction on how to handle lawsuits. In your life you probably won’t encounter an exact parallel to Jesus’ example. Yet, he is teaching us something that will continually be useful in our lives and in our relationships. We are not simply to do the right things. We are also called to do the right things in the right way. We are never to return evil for evil.

Pray: “Lord, I open myself to you so that your Holy Spirit can translate your examples into my life today. Thank you for the joy that comes with your call to ‘overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:21).”

 

Friday, June 22

Read: Matthew 5:38-41

Consider: Jesus’ third example of creative, non-violent resistance is termed “going the extra mile.”

“If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (5:41)

The hated Roman soldiers—those who had raped Jewish women and devastated their villages—had the legal right to demand and force someone to carry their weaponry and equipment for a mile. Perhaps this was the greatest insult of all. Imagine carrying the tools used to exploit your people. Imagine being forced to assist someone who had decimated your village and destroyed people you love. What would it feel like to hear Jesus tell you that, after your forced labor is over, you should voluntarily help your enemy?

Perhaps that extra mile would help you see that the soldier is also a victim of the Roman Empire. Perhaps it might help you understand that he had been brainwashed into thinking he was doing something righteous. Perhaps you would see beyond the systemic evil of the empire and see a hurting person who has his own fears and needs.

We often hear the phrase, “Go the extra mile.” But usually we are using that term to speak about inconveniences in life. But remember, Jesus used the phrase to talk about how we treat our worst enemies.

As we have seen in the previous two days, these are not specific commands. These are examples Jesus used to show us truth. The truth is, it takes courage and creativity to overcome evil with good. It also takes love. And the only source of love that is powerful enough to work on enemies is Jesus Christ himself.

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” — Shane Claiborne

Pray: Ask the Lord if there are any “extra miles” you need to walk. Ask him to help you walk them with joy and with a sense of honor as you fulfill Christ’s mandate to love your enemies.

 

Saturday, June 23

Read: Matthew 5:38-48

Consider: What do you do with that last line? “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).

Taken at face value, out of context, it would be enough to make us give up. How can we possibly reach perfection?

In the original language of the New Testament, the word, teleios, carries a different connotation than our word, “perfect.” When we speak about something being perfect, we think of it as flawless—without any defect. But in the New Testament, teleios speaks about completion—something whole and complete.

Immediately following Jesus’ words about loving our enemies, he told us to be complete as the Father is, who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (5:45) God somehow has the capacity to love evil people as much as he loves righteous ones.

In instructing us to be like the Father, Jesus was telling us that love for enemies is central to his teaching. This is not a side issue. This is a defining feature of our faith. For if we don’t love our enemies, how are we different than our enemies (5:46-47)?

This completeness of our faith—our love for our enemies—is fulfilled in Christ. He gave his life for his enemies on the cross. And, by the way, Paul reminded us that we were those enemies.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the good news that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (Colossians 1:21-23)

Pray: Thank God for loving you when you were alienated from him—when you were an enemy. Ask him to continually empower you to love your enemies as Christ loves you—as Christ loves all of us.