Sunday, February 19, 2017

How God Makes Human Love Divine

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