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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before February 19, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48

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.

What I Am Learning:

We live in a very tribal time. Our politics is tribal. Our sports are tribal. Our economics is tribal. Our religion (or non-religion) is tribal.

The central dynamic of our time is tribalism: the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group.

We are being split into smaller and smaller tribes, separating from one another over our differences.

And it is not a large step to move from tribalism to exclusionism: That those different from you do not deserve full human rights.

If we continue to go down this road, of always stating what we are against instead of what we are for, we will soon all be tribes of one.

Jesus knew all about the dynamic of tribalism and exclusionism. He knew that road does not end well.

So Jesus began his ministry, not by stating what he is against (the bullying culture of the Roman Empire) nor by stating who he is against (the Romans and their collaborators).

He begins by announcing that God's Way of Mutuality was on the way, was among his disciples. It would have been easy for him to say, "We are good, They are bad." He does not choose to do this. He does call people out on their wrongdoing. But he does so without tribal or exclusionistic tones.

In this reading, Jesus taught how his disciples were to treat people "in the other tribes" - people who were enemies.

Jesus says that we are to love our enemy. This is the Greek word "agape" which means self-giving love. Our definition of love in TCC is this:  Love is risking oneself so that oneself and others may be more authentic to the person/community God is calling them to be.

Many have assumed that to "turn the other cheek" means to invite abuse. This is not so!

Those of higher rank would slap an inferior person with the outside of their hand when their honor was infringed. They would slap equal with the palm of their hand when this happened.  To turn the other cheek invited your superior person to slap you with their palm. Turning the other cheek is a way of claiming your humanity and equal status with a supposedly superior person. It was a way to resist domination.

If anyone used the court system, a rigged system that favored the rich and connected, to sue you and take your coat then give them your cloak as well. Some have thought this meant that we can be abused by getting ripped off. No. In first century middle eastern culture to see a naked person dishonored those who looked. So if you lose in a rigged court case, give them your coat, and then in full view take off your inner garment as a public witness to their shameful court system. It was a way of resisting domination and calling for change!

If a Roman soldier asked you to carry his pack for one mile, you carry it two miles. This was the right of Roman soldiers. It was not your choice. But if you carry it a second mile you place the Roman soldier in your debt and claim your humanity and the right to choose. This could serve as a challenge to the soldier's view that the populations were not really human.

If someone begs from you, give to them and if they ask for a loan, give it to them. Jesus seems to have moved from those outside a community of mutuality who have more privilege than you now to those with less. He says that our response to those in need is to share what we have.

Lastly, he encourages us to love our enemies. Some have suggested that this means only some enemies. Nope! Jesus encourages his community to love, to seek the welfare of, those who act as enemies. Every enemy, every time!

This means that we are invited to a kind of holy imagination and a holy commitment. This holy imagination and commitment is to see our enemy as our neighbor, to see those who are different in this tribal time as future friends. We are invited to expose injustice without dehumanizing those who carry it out.

In doing so we honor not only the image of God in our enemy, but the image of God in ourselves.  In doing so we can then begin to reverse the trend toward tribalism and division and find our common humanity.

This road begins with our stating what we are for, instead of what and who we are against. It ends with no more enemies, only neighbors.