Sunday, June 17, 2007
LOVE WITHOUT LIMITS
You have learnt how it was said 'Eye for eye and tooth for tooth'. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole. And with his stripes we are healed.
You have learnt how it was said 'you must love your neighbour and hate your enemy'. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
For Christ suffered for you and left you a personal example, and wants you to follow in his steps. He was guilty of no sin, nor of the slightest prevarication. Yet when he was insulted he offered no insult in return. When he suffered he made no threats of revenge.
Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
(Matthew 5:38-40, JB; Isaiah 53:4-5, RSV; Matthew 5:43-44, JB; Peter 2:21-23, Phillips; Luke 23:34, NEB)
Should we permit the behaviour of others towards us to change our standards, ideals and behaviour?
In fact, the behaviour of others towards us does evoke changes within us. If we respond to our highest ideals and insights, we try to act patiently, tolerantly and lovingly. But when we receive in return nothing but misunderstanding, indifference, accusations of insincerity, and hostility, then we begin to change. We lose patience, we become defensive. Like Peter, we think it's a big deal to forgive up to seven times. But seventy times seven? No way.
The change in us is the consequence of our allowing the attitudes and actions of another to gain power over us.
We may even rationalise. We argue that it is in their interests that we do not allow them to get away with it.
We may also argue that whilst Jesus' teaching is ideal, we've got to be practical and realistic.
Jesus' prayer, 'Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing,' exemplifies his characteristic reaction to hostility and violence throughout his life. He dared to stake his whole being on the veracity and ultimate power of love. He refused at any point to allow the abuse and attacks of others to change one whit his attitudes or reaction towards them.
Never once did he change his nature -- which was to save those who reviled him -- to accommodate or adjust himself to others.
The cross is foolish not only to the unbelieving world. In his personal life the Christian also has a struggle with the foolishness of the cross -- the symbol of the uncompromising and unconditional love demonstrated by Jesus and demanded of his disciple.
Yet it is the way the Master went. And a cross-less Christianity is a distortion and a travesty.
An old man in India sat down in the shade of an ancient banyan tree whose roots disappeared far away in a swamp. Presently he discerned a commotion where the roots entered the water. Concentrating his attention, he saw that a scorpion had become helplessly entangled in the roots. Pulling himself to his feet, he made his way carefully along the tops of the roots to the place where the scorpion was trapped. He reached down to extricate it. But each time he touched the scorpion, it lashed his hand with its tail, stinging him painfully. Finally his hand was so swollen he could no longer close his fingers, so he withdrew to the shade of the tree to wait for the swelling to go down. As he arrived at the trunk, he saw a young man standing above him on the road laughing at him. 'You're a fool,' said the young man, 'wasting your time trying to help a scorpion that can only do you harm.' The old man replied, 'Simply because it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, should I change my nature, which is to save?'
William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love
Love will conquer hate.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done, or putting a false label on an evil act. It means rather that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst which creates the atmosphere necessary for a new beginning. Agape is sheer unqualified, creative and redemptive goodwill for all people. Love alone is capable of transforming with redemptive power.
I have lived with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive. There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. But I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.
Martin Luther King, Strength to Love
The meek only inherit abuse!
The spirit of self-denial and the spirit of service coming together produce a new being: the most formidable being on earth -- the Terrible Meek! They are terrible in that they demand nothing, and hence cannot be bought or tempted, and that there are no lengths they are not prepared to go for others. Christ in the presence of Pilate is a picture of the terrible meek. He could not be bullied -- he could not be changed. Nothing could make him love less. He wanted nothing, except to give his life for the very people who were crucifying him. The future of the world will be in the hands of those who serve the world, suffer for the world, and so save the world.
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Mount
Lord, in my head, and deep in my heart, I know that the way of Jesus is unquestionably right. The purity of his love leaves me wondering. But, Lord, you also know, better than I understand it, the struggle I have inside. The sheer practicalities of daily human interaction all tell me it won't work. I want to save myself. But then, didn't Jesus? The difference between us is that his final choices -- not to save himself -- were always the right ones. Mine almost never are. My natural impulse, Lord, is to defend myself, to protect myself, to refuse to become vulnerable to the hostility of others.
The cross is so much heavier than I thought. In the first flush of discipleship, and the glow of my young faith, I picked it up readily. But now? I've discovered that the cross is not a comfortable symbol. It impinges on almost every decision I have to make -- even the small ones. I Want to choose against the path of pain, involvement, personal cost. I can easily love my friends -- and forgive them when necessary. But my enemies? Those who hurt me? Every day I let the attitudes of others determine my reactions.
Lord, I see all this. And I know that your way, not mine, is right. Please help me, however stumblingly, to pick up the cross -- in little things and big -- until, by your grace, I become a little more like Jesus. Please help me. Amen.
O Holy Spirit, who so deeply disturbs our peace, continue, we pray, your probings and promptings and goad us until we go your way, to our own greater blessing and deeper peace. In Jesus Christ our Lord.
George Appleton, Journey for a Soul
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ make us gracious.
The love of God our Father make us loving
And the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit fill and empower us
Until we show, in our lives, more of the spirit and the marks of Jesus Christ.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 238-241