“Alternative to a Blind World”
February 23, 2014 – Epiphany 7A
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In a world where temptation and sin are present;
In a world absent of morals, ethics, or laws;
In a world without a system of timely, proportional justice;
The occasion of an emotionally charged incident:
- A theft, a rape, a murder -
would be a catalyst for unbridled, violent retaliation.
Theft would result in the cutting off of hands, torture, or death.
Rape would result in the rape, pillage, and burning of villages, cities, or kingdoms.
Murder would ….
Well, you get my drift.
This was how the world existed prior to Moses.
God recognized the limitations of previous tactics.
How many Towers of Babel can be toppled?
How many floods can be used to reset creation?
Thus God intervened,
as is His character.
God sent to us the Law,
Starting with the Ten Commandments.
A whole host of complimentary laws cascaded from the original ten
beginning with love God
and love your neighbors.
Just as important, God set apart Judges,
Asking them to administer proportional punishments where harm is committed.
Lex talionis, also known as the Law of Retaliation, was born;
first in Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi,
then in Hebrew Law,
and, eventually to Rome.
You and I know this as
“an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
Judgment is determined by an objective outsider,
a judge or a jury.
Punishment is proportional to the original harm
and carried out by a representative of the people.
Equally as important
“an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”
recognizes the importance for community safety
that judgment be pronounced
and penalties be carried through.
The health and strength of community’s fabric was of vital importance.
People need to be protected from the violent.
Examples needed to be made to reduce the likelihood of other aspiring criminals.
Developmentally / ethically,
the world leapt forward from childhood to adolescence with Lex talionis.
And so it was with the world for two thousand years.
Some never grow up from ethical childhood.
Others never develop from moral adolescence.
Today, Jesus is inviting us to mature
To become his moral,
Jesus quite rightly understands that
An eye for an eye results in a blind world.
Law and justice, in isolation, does not create
a sustainable, faithful community.
There are many who would argue this point,
Even make it political.
Had Jesus not just taught
calling someone a fool would relegate that person to hell,
I would suggest those who politicise the Gospel
for their own purpose
Instead, let me suggest we listen to Jesus
And allow the conscience to wrestle with the scriptures on its own.
I’ll hold my tongue and
leave the rest up to God.
Law and justice, in isolation,
does not create a sustainable, faithful community.
Punishment can not stand alone as the sole example
of a faithful community.
There must be something else
Jesus can serve
as an example
of living according to His will.
Jesus brings to the table a winning hand in spades;
the next stage of moral and ethical development
with the introduction of grace.
God’s Law and system of judgment and punishment
We hear resonating in today’s Sermon on the Mount
… blessings …
… comfort …
… light …
… and salt.
With his tongue in his cheek
And a glimmer of sarcasm in his eye
a matured morality
and calls all of his disciples
to step up and grow into His new kingdom.
“I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other also.”
The first alternative tactic to eliminate a blind world
Is to stop resisting evildoers.
Violent resistance, as it is understood here, is to be avoided.
Jesus puts an end to the hyperbolic,
worst case scenario in one fell swoop:
What happens if someone breaks into your home and intends to harm your family?
Jesus says, ‘do not violently resist.”
At the same time, Jesus understands that a call to end violent resistance
will be utterly discounted by the public
in the absence of a graceful alternative.
So he immediately follows with a new tactic:
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other also.”
In other words,
If anyone strikes you with an open hand,
Turn, so that the next blow will have to be backhanded,
Which would be public and personal humiliation to the aggressor!
It isn’t manly to pummel someone with your back hand;
This certainly would have brought a smirk to Jesus
And quieted chuckles to the crowd.
“and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat,
give your cloak as well.”
In other words,
If anyone sues your pants off
and takes the shirt off your back,
give them your underwear as well.
Get the picture?!!
The embarrassment isn’t upon you
standing naked in front of the evildoer.
The embarrassment and shame is wholly upon them.
The quiet chuckles in the crowd would have broken out into open laughter.
“and if anyone forces you to go one mile,
go also the second mile.”
Roman law at the time required all citizens
at a centurion’s request,
his bag one mile.
But now, if an evildoer request this of you,
take it the second mile.
By the second mile
you and I will be sweating, struggling, nearly broken down.
How does that look next to a testosterone oozing manly man,
all dressed up and bulging with muscles?
This nonviolent tactic to respond to evil
again, brings shame and ridicule wholly upon the oppressor.
In three, short sentences,
Jesus dawns a new age in God driven,
moral and ethical development.
Nonviolent resistance ends blindness
By bringing shame and ridicule to those who practice evil.
Sarcasm is pocketed
and Jesus continues anew:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Any person can hate.
So, don’t be that guy,
don’t be that gal,
Jesus is telling us!
Hatred gets you nowhere.
Hatred is the perfect breeding ground for
Unrestrained emotion and future violence.
Replace hatred with love.
Love those who do evil against you.
When a brute is met with love,
most will not know what to do.
Fill that void with the invitation
- fish for people –
‘I love you.
Jesus loves you.
Join me, and become his disciple, too.’
Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most obvious
American prophet who really understood
Our passage from Matthew for this morning:
That this was an evolutionary development in the history of the world
to lead morally and ethically acceptable lives before God.
That this is Jesus’ call for nonviolent resistance
To those who cause evil and injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
was King’s response
from a Birmingham jail
to white clergymen
who wanted the civil rights movement
played out in civility of the courts
rather than on the streets.
For King, “wait” became equated with “never.”
He quoted Chief Justice Earl Warren,
“justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
(Letter from Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Now is the time to turn the other cheek.
This is the day we bring embarrassment to the bully.
Jesus calls for nonviolent resistance
King, Mandela, Gandhi, and others
have shown us it can be done.
Now, it is time for us to hold high the light of Christ
and to walk the path He forged
and Saints have followed.
It takes unconventional means to build a kingdom.
Some might call the humiliation of the powerful subversive.
Others will claim the ways of Jesus are extreme.
Academics will cite exceptions
with a claim that kingdoms don’t work this way.
Nonviolent resistance will be ridiculed by the impulsive
who simply recoil, snap, and feast on the carnage of revenge.
The cross and empty tomb
have long survived
after the Devil’s lieutenants
have been sealed into coffins
and relegated to the dust of history.
There is nothing more subversive or extreme
than the balance of grace and law,
of the cross washing away sins
and the resurrection lifting us by the hand
to welcome us to eternal life.
As with an eye for an eye
Violence begets violence
And the whole world is blinded.
Today, Jesus reveals a new strategy to transform the world into his kingdom,
to mature into a life of God’s grace,
to replace resistance with love.
keep it simple.
Become His love.