Sunday, February 19, 2017
Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44 (NRSV): The Humanly Impossible
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.
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.”
One evening, two young men were at a party when, in the midst of an argument, one of the young men shot the other four times, killing him. The murder victim, Laramiun Byrd, was the only son of a single mother. That mother, later on, did something miraculous. People magazine reports her story as follows:
On Feb. 12, 1993, Oshea Israel, then 16, shot Mary Johnson’s only son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, four times at a party in Minneapolis. While Israel was serving a 25-year sentence for the murder, Johnson, 59, contacted her son’s killer after 10 years in hopes that she could move past her anger and forgive him. In time, she embraced [Oshea Israel] as her son. (Birkenhouse, Benet)
The last line is not a misprint: Mary Johnson, the mother of the deceased, embraced her son’s murderer as her own son. Their story illustrates Jesus’ command to not only love our neighbor but to love and pray for our enemy (Matthew 5:44). Mary’s desire to heal rather than be consumed by hate exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to eschew revenge and embrace forgiveness, even forgiving the most wretched evildoer (Matthew 5:39).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers two teachings about forsaking revenge and offering love to all people. Jesus, remember, said that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). And being the original author of that Law, Jesus not only fulfills it, but he “ups the ante,” so to speak. There is no more exacting revenge or loving only those who love back. Not only does Jesus teach this in his words, but he lives this out through his example of self-giving love on Calvary. Jesus -- stripped naked (the loin cloth around Jesus is not historically accurate), scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, forced to look at his grieving mother’s anguish, abandoned by his close friends, jeered at and mocked by onlookers -- offers a prayer of petition for his enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The Lord himself offers his sacred flesh for the sins of the world and prays for the people who crucify him, for the sinners who do him the most evil. Jesus combats hate with self-giving love, a love that is above anything we could ever imagine. And as I write these words, I am moved to tears, knowing that in the face of my sins Christ, pure and innocent in every way, willingly died the most scandalous, painful death for me.
I want to end this meditation here, in tears and with Jesus loving us from the cross. For the next time I am tempted to hate, gossip, complain, get back at someone, or decry something I find annoying, I want to remember Jesus’ desperate love for everyone and the words he offered his disciples on Holy Thursday: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
I pray that we all do our best to love the person in front of us with the love of Christ, even when that love seems humanly impossible. For Jesus said that with “God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:27).
Have a blessed week!Stan
Sunday, February 12, 2017
1 Corinthians 2:7-8, 12 (NIV): Trust the Holy Spirit
7 [W]e declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it . . . .12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
We all experience the occasional spiritual dry spell, moments when we feel like God is absent. Periods of spiritual aridity can be tough to endure but are necessary trials of our faith. Our struggles are more often the fallout of worldly thinking, leaning too much on our pride and society’s empty promises. During one of my own spiritual struggles, someone reminded me to “trust the Holy Spirit.” His simple words forced me to “snap out of it,” to see the Spirit of Christ at work in and around me, and to be strengthened against the malaise of the world.
Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, expresses the same idea. He reminds them that the Gospel message is of “God’s wisdom” (7), not the popular wisdom espoused by “the rulers of this age” (8). In first-century Corinth, many egocentric Greeks could not see beyond the mirage of worldly wisdom. And Paul clearly knew this. In the letter, Paul reminds his readers, for instance, that “[w]hat we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (12).
In “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” Mark Twain speaks of a similar spiritual duality:
Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!
The world robbed Twain of a majestic vision and instead replaced it with an empty, utilitarian one. In his “master[ing] the language of this water,” he lost touch with its mystery, beauty, and grace. Like many of the Corinthians, Twain became snared by the spirit of the world. Paul reminds us to avoid this trap and to trust the Holy Spirit.
There are two ways to navigate our struggles -- the way of the world and the way of the God. When we choose to trust the Holy Spirit, we find Christ’s peace. And I pray that we all find, follow, and trust in the way of God, especially in our moments of trial.
Let us pray:
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling
of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened
for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now
and for ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer 1979)
Have a blessed week!Stan