Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48
This week has been one of ups and downs for me. Driving home one day I see on the warning signs “Amber Alert”! Meaning a child has been wrongfully taken from her family. Only to find out later that that child’s body was found, dead. We had a wonderful discussion on Wednesday evening only to go back to work to see yet another young person struggling with substance abuse and theft. I listened to people all around me tear my faith to shreds because of the actions of others, yet in the same conversation I heard but you are different, you have faith yet you still honor humanity.
You have faith yet you still honor humanity. That one statement nearly brought me to tears in part because they saw something different in my life and respected it, but there was so much pain in the words. There was pain because somewhere in the past someone deeply injured this person through words and actions that jaded their understanding of what life with Christ truly means. I went to bed that night thinking; actually I was up nearly most of the night contemplating this issue. Begging God to give us all another chance to show the truth and light to the world around us, because in that person’s words all I heard was we have failed to honor our God because we failed to love our neighbors.
This is the essence of what Jesus was talking about in His Sermon on the Mount, the dichotomy of words and actions of the religious. It is said, Jesus repeatedly says in this sermon. He points out the teaching of the religious in many cases, it is said do not murder… It is said do not commit adultery… It was said, give a certificate of divorce… It was said an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth… love you neighbor and hate your enemy. For most of those statements what was said was correct, but the actions did not reflect what was said in those words.
You have faith yet you still honor humanity. With that simple statement, which was given in complete honesty and genuine respect I realized that often those of us called by the name of Christ have missed the point. It does not take long watching the news to see just how often very well-meaning religious people have diligently held up the letter of the law yet with their words often do not shine the light of Christ to the very ones they hope to encourage. Often we are caught in the “it was said” statements
I tremble as I speak because I know that every word that I say has consequences, once the words leave my mouth I cannot take them back and once the sound waves hit your ears your minds may interpret them differently than the mind that uttered them. I know that it could be thought that I just lowered a standard, that some might think that I have just diminished the place of scripture but please bear with me, and listen.
Jesus in his “It was said,” statements was saying that the interpretation of the law was not adequate not the law itself. Interpretation is not the Spirit behind the words but instead mankind’s understanding of it. Jesus was accused of diminishing the law that was given to Moses by God’s very finger, but in reality he was upholding and deepening the understanding of what scripture was saying. Jesus was telling them that it is not enough to merely keep the law, but to remember honor the humanity of those around you.
Today, we are faced with the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This is a legitimate biblical statement. You could look up the cross-reference and find every place in scripture it was mentioned, but if we only look at the words and do not look at the context, or if we do not contemplate the reason behind the law we may miss the point totally. When we look at this law, we would find that there was a reason for the wording that is used; the meaning in context was to ensure the penalty for an offence did not exceed the offence itself. The law was given to prevent vengeance, yet as time moved away from the initial presentation of the law the interpretation has been twisted and instead of preventing revenge many began using the very words of God to promote vengeful actions. They had faith but failed to honor humanity.
Jesus in His teaching urges us to take a different path. It was said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” Do not resist the evildoer, how many of us just quickly run over that statement as we read this? In the New Revised Standard Version, Do, is capitalized, this struck me as odd. I looked it up and found that the translators of the King James Version also capitalized the beginning of that statement, as did the translators of the New International version. These biblical scholars deemed it necessary to forego proper English grammar to capitalize a word in the middle of a sentence without it being a proper name. It is as if it is highlighted so we will not miss the point. I do not know if there was a grammatical reason why the translators did this but I found it odd, that it has been done in nearly every English translation. Now back to the point, Do not resist the evildoer. Jesus is literally saying eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is not something that you personally are to do anything about. It is not our place to enact justice; we are not to resist the evildoers personally.
This is very uncomfortable for us to consider, because we as Americans are used to standing up for our rights and we take our rights very seriously. If someone attempts to do us wrong we are quick to demand justice, but Jesus is saying Do not resist. If we do not resist then where does that leave us? If we do not stand up for ourselves who will? This is where the next statements become more important. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” Jesus is telling us Do not resist but stand firm. To be stuck on the right cheek is to be physically insulted, but our response is not to get revenge but to continue to stand firm in our faith even in the face of persecution.
Jesus moves on to say if someone sues you give them more than they ask and if they force you to go a mile to offer to carry the burden an additional mile. These again are dehumanizing and insulting things to have happen. These actions defuse the situation and it actually removes the argument from the evildoers.
I know it sounds like a losing battle that we will lose everything if we do not resist, but this actually empowers us. It removes the need to use force upon us and opens the door for us to teach out of love.
Jesus then says, “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…” This portion of scripture is one that is highly contested, because there is no reference to where this particular teaching to hate the enemy directly implied. But it goes back to the question who is your neighbor. Neighbor can mean many things like the word we translate as brother. In many interpretations of this word law to love the neighbor it was implied that it was those of the same faith or nation, all outside of that were not equal and the law did not necessarily apply to them. In Luke’s version of this sermon Jesus was asked the question of who is our neighbor and Jesus then told one of his most famous parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word neighbor simply means a person nearby. It is not someone who has similar beliefs, not only those that agree with you, someone who speaks your language, or even from the same country. Simply if they are nearby they deserve the same love as anyone else.
This is where things get more difficult. It is fairly easy to love or to take pleasure in those near us, but it is much more difficult enjoy the presence of an enemy. How can we take pleasure in someone who is hateful, detestable, or hostile to us? This is where honoring the humanity of others is important, this is where listening, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile comes in handy. If we honor those that oppose us as people equal to us we take the fuel away from the fire, because if they are detestable to us chances are very good that we are the same for them, but if we treat those that oppose our views with respect suddenly they must answer the questions.
These are extremely difficult statements. I like everyone else enjoy my rights, I like everyone else dislikes it when people treat me poorly especially when it comes to beliefs that I hold as important. Yet I look at the way Jesus responded to those around Him. He was very passionate, yet in His passion He honored those around Him. He only used harsh terms on those that lived as hypocrites, yet even in those cases he continued to entertain the company of those that opposed his views. He was willing to sit at the table with the sinners as well as the religious leaders and took pleasure at that table. This tells us just a bit about God.
Jesus says that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. God even though we so often times are living as an enemy to Him still cares for us. Even though we tend to make a mess out of His creation He still takes pleasure in us. Even though we reject the ways of God so often He still sent His Son to us and Jesus willingly came even while we were detestable, hateful, vile enemies of His. He came and sat down at the tables of people just like us, yet he took pleasure in it. Even when the enmity got so bad He joyfully endured the pain and shame of the cross. Why?
We rejected Him yet He found joy in that rejection. He found joy, because to honor God we must love our neighbor. To love God we must honor the humanity of those near us. This stops the current course and causes those around us to reconsider their views.
Jesus ends this section by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is where we so often fail. This is where the words spoken by my friend cut the deepest, the words, “you have faith yet you still honor humanity.” Be perfect. If our faith is perfect faith it should reflect the one in which we are faithful to. Yet so often those outside of our faith find us to be hateful, vengeful, and detestable. They see us as hypocrites because we claim perfection but often we exhibit something else. The problem again is the interpretation of perfect. The word translated as perfect in this passage could also mean genuine, complete, mature, adult, or initiated. Be genuine as your heavenly father is genuine. This changes everything. Be honest, be humble, and be real. Treat those around us with mature adult responses, filled with love and grace.
You have faith yet you honor humanity. What does that statement mean? This statement came out of observation. This particular individual saw other rip into me, saw people laugh in my face when I expressed my beliefs, had argued with me on various topics yet continues to speak to me. They themselves have often been the ones laughing. You have faith yet you honor humanity. I have not changed what I have said to them, and they are fully aware that I am not perfect, but they see something genuine. They observed me as I make every attempt to live my faith out in my daily life even when it is hard.
You have faith yet you honor humanity. Words spoken, actions taken, and lives lived in front of those around us. Jesus came not as an enemy but as salvation, providing the way out of a lifestyle commanded by cycles of hate, revenge, and other selfish desires. He gives us something new and something real that changes our entire life now and for the ages to come. He shows us that life, the kingdom life, by how He interacted with those around Him. By loving God the Heavenly Father genuinely in worship, by embracing the Holy Spirit in prayer, and by living a life of love by serving those around him. You have faith yet you honor humanity. Our love for God is not complete unless we are willing to take on the life of Christ in our own lives, having faith yet honoring humanity.