Oh, look! Check out what today’s text is from the Lectionary!
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Oh man, I am tempted to just walk into any church in town and watch the fireworks. If I had to pick, I would say this is the single most important chunk of teaching from Jesus’ life, and it’s also the one that breaks people’s brains. Congregation after congregation will be watching a version of this tomorrow from the pulpit:
A whole 211 words spoken by a dusty, wandering moral genius more than 2,000 years ago, and I’m willing to bet 90 percent or more of the clergy and preachers in this country will spend well over a thousand words explaining to thousands of people why Jesus could not possibly have meant what his plain words say, or if he did, well, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way (as if the occupied, exploited, internally divided land of 1st century Palestine were some Connecticut country club where everything is simple and idyllic and not at all complex or violent or dangerous). Nothing in this could possibly mean that we have to give up the power of violence even in self-defense of life, liberty or property, right?
No, what’s really being said here is that if someone hits you, you hit them right back so they don’t hit other people ever again, or at least they never hit you again. What’s being said here is that if anyone tries to take your coat, you cock that pistol and say “Make my day.” What’s being said here is that if someone ever tries to take your liberty by force, you go buy some Lockheed Martin missiles and General Atomics Predator drones and you blow those mothers off the face of the earth. That’s the only Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world like Jesus (pat him on the head now) where nobody ever tried to take your land, or national freedom, or your life? If only the world worked like that.
If only Jesus and his people had some experience with real cold-stone dictators or occupations or terrorism, he would have made sure to tell you what 90 percent of preachers and clergy are going to tell you this morning.