27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
I was reading the scripture lessons for this week when a name popped into my head. I had not thought of this person for over 20 years at least. Her name was Marcia. Let me tell you a little about Marcia. Way back in the day when I worked at High Plains Youth Center as a teacher, we had a science teacher named Marcia. You know how Pomona Sprout the lady herbologist in the Harry Potter movies (pic), that’s what Marcia looked like. So Marcia grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and she came from a fairly conservative family in which she was expected to marry and raise a family and live within a stone’s-throw of the house she grew up in. That was not in the cards for Marcia.
She went to school and became a very good science teacher. She was a tough teacher as well; the kids would not get away with anything from this little 4-foot 8-inch woman who remember was teaching these serious juvenile delinquents. She decided that it would be really good if the kids learned some responsibility and decided that they should raise rabbits. She had heard about the success of inmates raising animals and wanted these kids to get that chance.
One year over the 4th of July weekend, the staff was short and there were not enough guards to take the kids outside to feed and water the rabbits. The rabbits died. Marcia was inconsolable. She cried for these rabbits and then went outside and gathered up the dead rabbits and threw them on the director’s desk. She believed it was his fault that the rabbits were not cared for and wanted him to see what had happened to her little critters. Well as you can imagine the director was not too happy about walking into his office and seeing these rabbits laying on his desk. He called her into the office and after a pretty short conversation she was packing up her classroom because he fired her.
She had no idea what she was going to do. It was not a normal school—no summer break and she had not been applying anywhere. Back in those days (the late 80s) there were plenty of teachers to go around. The hiring season was over, she had no job and she was not going to go back to the farm in Oklahoma. Being distraught and no place to go, you know who said come live with us? Me. Much to a lot of head shaking from my wife we let her move in. It did not take us long to realize that we not very compatible. She was a night owl, not us. She would give us advice all the time—and we never solicited it. We needed more color in our food and wanted us to put in all these vegetables. Now I am a meat and potatoes guy and vegetables are side dishes not meant to be all over the plate. We had several other disagreements and the thing is she didn’t do anything to find a job. She was going to live off of us and wait to substitute teach in the fall. We tried really hard but after a while we hardly tried. We ended up asking her to leave. She ended up going back to Oklahoma, but she got a teaching job and did not have to move to the farm. I have not heard from Marcia since.
I think that the reason I remembered her this week, was when Jesus said to love everyone even your enemies, I remembered how hard that is to do. We never became enemies, but it was close. The story from Genesis and the continuation of the Sermon on the Plain in the gospel of Luke are hard for us. It is a call to radicalism to be able to love even our enemies. The definition of radicalism: “the beliefs or actions of people who advocate thorough or complete political or social reform” (online dictionary). Our society is a “win at all cost” world. Throughout history wars are fought because we can’t love. People die because of unlove and unforgiveness.
Joseph was a pure radical in every sense of the imagination in the way he treated his brothers… (Gen. 37-50)
It was all God’s doing according to Joseph. “God sent me before you to preserve life” and “God sent me to preserve life…” “You did not send me here, but God did.” Joseph wanted his brothers to know that it truly was God who had intervened in the affairs of his life to make it possible for them to survive the famine. Remember Joseph got a little retribution when he forced the gold in their bags and wanted the youngest Benjamin to stay behind as a test of their faithfulness. If it were not for God things may have played out differently in this story. That is the grace that God gives us.
Jesus says we have to forgive our enemies and then he goes further and says we have to forgive the one who hates us, robs us, forces us to do so many horrible things and even abuses. But before I go any further nowhere Jesus says that we have to stay in abusive relationships. Let’s be clear, Jesus never condones abuse. Jesus holds accountable those who persecute and injure others, and so should we. Jesus does not tell people to remain in dangerous, hurtful circumstances. Jesus insists his followers adhere to the standard of love, even for their enemies. Like Joseph, disciples of Jesus Christ seek the good, even for those who’ve sought to do them harm. When that can not happen then we should support those who need to get away from abusive spouses, parents, or children.
When we allow the grace of God to move into our hearts and we have better feeling about ourselves then we don’t need to be the judge and jury for everyone. We do not have to decide who gets the love and who does not. Jesus said in verse 37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;” which is so hard for us. This is when the being good to everyone takes on a whole new meaning. This is when we start earning the name that society calls Christians, “a bunch of hypocrites.” The psychology of it is pretty basic. When we do something bad, we feel bad. In order for us to feel better about the bad thing we did we rationalize what we did and compare it to someone we have decided is less worthy than ourselves.
Today I wish that things would have ended differently with Marcia. There are others that I wish the same. Even worse is there are still others in my life that I really have not forgiven. I don’t know why, but when I see them, I feel the pain whether it is anger, frustration, or even guilt. My heart needs to find ways to accept the grace that God has given me so that I in turn can extend that grace, that love.
Adopting the teaching of Jesus is true radicalism. Being a Christian that is willing to not judge and love even our enemies is so far against the grain any more in society we just can’t imagine it. It is like we have to be pissed at some one lest we be pissed upon. If it is not a specific person then it is an idea, a form of our culture, another religion, something that we knock down to make ourselves feel better. Yet we do know how, because we know how we want to be treated. We want to be liked, friended and accepted for who we are. Love your neighbor as yourself is the call to action by Jesus.
The good news is that no matter what we do, God loves us so much that we can’t lose God’s love. God never gets so angry or frustrated that he throws up his hands and tells us to get out. God does not unfollow or unfriend us. God is in it for the long haul, you might say for eternity. Amen.