Is it just me or does the US presidential election seem nastier than usual?
The interesting thing, or disturbing thing, or sad thing, use your own adjective, is that both Candidates would say they were at least brought up in the Christian tradition.
When asked about her faith Mrs. Clinton responded with a trinity of faith statements. “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist”
Not to be outdone the Donald said “I’m a Protestant; I’m a Presbyterian.” He elaborated by later stating, “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”
And both candidates attended Sunday school, Trump at 1st Presbyterian in Jamaica Queens and Clinton at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois.
And while I wouldn’t want to question the personal faith of either of them, apparently even though they may have heard the teachings of Jesus from an early age it would seem that some of them didn’t stick, in particular how to treat those who treat you badly.
It seems as if have forgotten some of Jesus’ most important teachings. You know, the section we call the Sermon on the Mount.
This is week 3 of our “Hashtag This” series at Cornerstone as we take a look at words and phrases that could use a hashtag. Week one was #gointoalltheworld last week was #castthefirststone and this week we are going to delve into the Sermon on the Mount, all of which would probably carry the hashtage #sermononthemount
Most of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is summed up in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
This is kind of interesting because there is nowhere in the bible that we are told to hate our enemies. This particular command comes from Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord. Somewhere over time the oral law decided that if you were to love your neighbour then it only makes sense that you should hate your enemy.
The Love your neighbour part would appear to be a New Testament favourite because Jesus mentions it five times, Paul quotes it twice and James quotes it once. You might assume from that, that it was important concept.
But it wasn’t “Love your neighbour” that Jesus was concerned with at this point, instead it was the second half of what was said the “Hate your enemy” side of it.
What Jesus is talking about here ties in with what he said a little earlier in this passage, when he stated in Matthew 5:38 You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
His listeners would have heard this in a variety of Old Testament scriptures in particular in Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Exodus 21:24. This is the oldest law in the world, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. That law was referred to in the ancient world as Lex Talionis, but it might have been more aptly referred to as the “law of tit for tat.”
It appears in the earliest code of laws and that was the code of Hammurabi, who was a Babylonian King who lived 1800 years before Christ. The main principal is clear; if a person inflicts an injury then he would receive the same treatment.
There are some who would call this harsh and blood thirsty, but in reality it was the beginning of mercy, for two reasons: The first is that it limited Judgement, if someone knocked out one of your teeth then you can’t knock out all of his. Secondly it took judgement away from the individual and gave it to society.
Probably the greatest example of the why and how of this law was capital punishment. If someone killed your child they would be sentenced to death, that was their punishment, you couldn’t go out and kill their children and their spouse. This type of law was indicative of the society in which Christ lived. It was very much a retaliatory society.
And it still is through much of the Middle East, Iran does it, Syria does it, Lebanon does it, Iraq does it, Libya does it and if you want a real lesson in retaliatory justice then just watch the Jews. But then again we support Israel so when the do it we don’t call it terrorism.
And remember that Christ said that he didn’t come to destroy the law. Also keep in mind that we are dealing with an imperfect world. We need to accept the reality of a system which punishes the lawless and rewards the lawful.
In a perfect world there would be no murder so there wouldn’t need to be laws concerning murder. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be adultery so there wouldn’t have to be laws concerning adultery.
In a perfect world there would be no divorce and nobody would ever break a promise or cheat on their spouse but we don’t live in a perfect world so God laid down regulations, regulations for everyone, believer, non believer, Christian pre-Christian, redeemed unredeemed. We live in a less than perfect world, and although the law is not perfect it was concerned with checking the evil which threatens to destroy society. And so Christ accepted the necessity of an imperfect system to deal with an imperfect world.
But he felt that his followers needed to go beyond the law, it wasn’t enough for them not to commit murder they were to refrain from hating. It wasn’t enough for them not to cheat on their spouse they couldn’t even think about it, and we are going to deal with that next week.
The Mosaic Law punished evil doers; Jesus sought to eradicate evil. Not by eradicating the evil doer but by redeeming them, by changing them.
If’n you want to stomp out evil by stomping out the evil doer then the Law of Moses is fine. But if’n you want to destroy evil and salvage the sinner then you need a completely different approach.
The law tells us to react in kind, and that suits our human personality. We are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hater, and be close minded to the close minded. But Christ isn’t content with those who call themselves by his name reacting in the same way as the world. Instead of reacting in kind, he commands us to react in contrast.
Indeed, he goes so far as to tell us in Matthew 5:39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.
Now I can almost ready your minds, “He can’t be serious. Jesus didn’t understand what the situation would be like today. But you know Jesus wasn’t referring to international situations, and Jesus didn’t intend for this to be taken serious, besides all of that Jesus only meant this as guidelines in relationships between Christians.” I had a Professor in Bible College who said “When you say ‘that isn’t really what it means’ then it must have hurt”
Jesus was talking about October 16, 2016, he meant for his words to be taken literally and he was referring to all of our interpersonal relationships. To top it all off Jesus even lays down some examples from the everyday life of his listeners.
Matthew 5:39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.
Often we don’t read into this statement what Christ intended for us to see. We see someone who struck another person and we don’t see more because we are relating this statement to 2016 Canadian culture and that isn’t the time or place that Jesus was when he made this statement.
“ “ would you come up here for a minute, let me demonstrate. In the culture of Christ, the backhanded slap was the greatest insult going; as a matter of fact, it was twice as insulting as being slapped with the palm of the hand.
What Christ was saying was not only “do not retaliate” but “don’t resent either”.
Now don’t make the major error of limiting Jesus’ words to a physical slap.
In 2016 Canada you will probably never be physically struck, just doesn’t happen in polite company.
But there will be verbal blows, insults, and rumours. They will be real and imagined, petty and large, personal and general. Don’t forget the words of Christ in Matthew 5:11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Christ didn’t say “If that happens” he said “when that happens” and there’s a big difference in those two little words.
Christ was a lot nicer person then me and he was called a glutton and a drunk, he was accused of being a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes, and he was beaten and spit on, hey I haven’t got a chance.
Early Christians were called cannibals and accused of all kinds of gross immoralities. Time and time again Christians suffer real and imagined insults. They aren’t nominated for a position, they’re forgotten in a note of thanks, or they are snubbed by someone in the church or heaven forbid by the Pastor.
But the true Christian has forgotten what it is like to be insulted because they have learned from the master to accept any insult without reprisal, and without resentment.
It was John Maxwell who said “If you want to help others and become a person of influence, keep smiling, sharing, giving, and turning the other cheek.”
The second illustration comes in Matthew 5:40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. All except the very poorest of the Jews would have a couple of shirts. The coat on the other hand was their outer garment but it was more than that. It was like a long poncho and the people of the day wore it as a garment during the day and used it as a blanket at night.
Most Jews had only one cloak, and the cloak was such an important part of the Jews wardrobe that it was protected by the law. We are told in Exodus 22:26-27 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as security for a loan, you must return it before sunset. This coat may be the only blanket your neighbor has. How can a person sleep without it?
By Jewish tradition and Jewish law, you might ask a man for his shirt, but never His cloak. And yet Christ is saying, even that which is protected by law, be ready to give up. Even that which you don’t want to give, give. Unfortunately, the church is full of people who militantly stand on their rights and their privileges, and they won’t be pried loose from them.
People like that haven’t even started to see what Christianity is all about. The Christian doesn’t think of His rights he thinks of his duties; he doesn’t dwell on his privileges but remembers his responsibility. He has forgotten that he has any rights at all. The man who vehemently stands on his rights, who will fight to his death over his legal rights both inside and outside the church has a lot to learn about giving up his cloak as well.
The third illustration comes from Matthew 5:41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Here is a picture taken from an occupied country and it’s tough for us to even imagine what Christ is talking about because we can’t imagine being forced to do anything. Yet in Palestine 2000 years ago at any time a Jew might feel the flat of a Roman spear on his shoulder and the Soldier on the other end command them to do anything, even act as their porter and carry their baggage for a mile.
Do you remember Simon of Cyrene? He was the man who was forced to carry the cross of Christ. That was the only other time that this word which we translate as forced was used in the Bible.
Now you could obey the soldier one of two ways: the first would be with grudging acceptance, like the little boy who was told to stand in the corner and he sat there with his arms crossed and said “I may be sitting on the outside but I standing on the inside.”
You ever do that? I sure have. Or you can cheerfully do your best. There are always two ways to do something 1) doing it with the bare minimum and that’s it, or 2) do what you’re asked to do and more, graciously and cheerfully. But listen up, don’t wait until you are pressed into service by a Roman soldier because it probably won’t happen. But you will have all kinds of opportunity at work, school and church.
The ineffective employee, the resentful volunteer the ungracious helper has no idea what the Christian life is supposed to be about.
The Christian shouldn’t be concerned with only doing what he likes to do instead he should only be concerned with being able to help, even when the demand is discourteous and unreasonable. And so Jesus has given us three guiding principles for our Christian life: 1) Christians shouldn’t resent or seek retaliation 2) Christians shouldn’t stand on their rights 3) Christians Shouldn’t demand the right to do as They Please. Instead they should be seeking to help, or go the second mile if you will.
Christ summed it all up in Matthew 5:44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! as a matter of fact if you were reading in the New King James Version of the Bible it goes into even more depth because it says “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, But you ask, “how do I love people like that?” Good question and the way to the answer is to first get a proper understanding of the word love. There are all kinds of “love” out there and we relegate them to one word. I love your shirt, I love my wife, I love my kids, I love my church, I love to fly, I Love pizza. And yet I love each of those things in a different way.
The Greeks got around this problem by using different words for love. 1) Storge, was family love it was what you would feel toward your children or your parents. 2) Eros, was the love you felt toward your husband or wife, it’s where we get the word erotic. 3) Phileo was a close friendship. There was a fourth word used by the Greeks for love and that was Agape. And this was an act of the will not of the heart.
It’s not an if or because love, you know I’ll love you if you do this or I love you because of that. This type of love is not based on the actions of others. It’s not the love of family, friend or lover although it may grow into one of these. And this is the type of love that Jesus commands us to show to others even our greatest enemy.
Why Agape? Because. That is the love of God for the world. A love based on no external factors. This commandment can only be comprehended and obey by Christians, because it is only when Christ lives in our lives that bitterness dies and love springs to life.
We also need to note that this commandment isn’t just passive, we are required to commit ourselves to action. We are commanded to pray for our enemies. We cannot go on hating a man in the presence of God. In prayer bitterness dies. It’s pretty well summed up in Matthew 5:48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Sometimes people have some problems with that verse. They think perfect like God, hmm kind of sounds like Genesis 3:5 when Satan told Adam and Eve that they could be like God. And that isn’t what the word perfect implies here.
Again if we were to go back to the original language of the New Testament we would discover the word used was Telios and it literally means complete. This word is used to indicate that something is perfect for the job at hand. A fully grown man is telios compared to a half grown boy. A graduating student is telios compared to a freshman.
God is perfect as God. He is a perfect God, he has perfect knowledge, and perfect power and that is a perfection which we can never attain because we’ll never be God. And yet God has a perfection for each one of us and that is when we come to a place where we are complete for the task set before us. When we live a life with perfect love, perfect motive and perfect obedience. It comes when we live by the Sermon on the Mount not because we have to but because that is the inner most desire of our heart. When even politicians realize that if they profess to know Christ then they need to act it, and maybe a part of that is not participating in attack ads and personal attacks against their opponents. I understand you can even win elections with that philosophy.
And now I leave you with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”