If you heard a political candidate espousing today’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) as her or his agenda would you vote for her or him? Is today’s gospel the platform on which your political party stands and governs our nation? If we really are a Christian nation, shouldn’t it be? Are you teaching your kids the values in today’s gospel or are you teaching values of power, violence, winning, and just deserts? Do your role models live these values or something else? Does today’s gospel really represent not just our beliefs but our practices? Are you and I doing what Jesus says? If today’s gospel is what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus, how’s that going for you?
Last week I said that I had problems with the gospel, that continues this week. Those questions I just asked come out of my own struggle with today’s gospel. They are questions I am asking myself. I like what Jesus says. It’s beautiful and inspiring. It’s how I want to live and the way I want our world to be. But what do you and I do when we meet someone who is unloveable, hurts us through an unforgivable act, or really is deserving of our judgment and condemnation? It’s often not this gospel.
I wonder if this gospel even makes sense in today’s world of enemies, haters, cursers, and abusers. I’m not saying we don’t need today’s gospel, we need it more than ever. But, is it really possible to live like that? Here’s why I ask that question.
Have you ever ended a relationship, or refused to see or speak with someone, because he or she betrayed your confidence, spoke critically of your child or spouse, or didn’t do what you thought should be done? From whom are you withholding forgiveness these days? When have you condemned or made a judgment about someone else’s life and then enjoyed sharing the dirt with another? In what ways have you hit back with thoughts, words, or fists? Have you ever wanted to get even and hurt someone because they hurt you or someone you love?
Those, and a thousand others like them, are the real life struggles that today’s gospel holds before us. I know what that struggle is like and I’ll bet you do too. We’ve all been there.
The world is complex. Relationships are difficult. Life is fragile. That’s why we need today’s gospel. And that’s why it matters. But it’s not easy.
I don’t think Jesus intends his words to be a “how to” lesson. He’s not telling us how to love, reconcile, forgive, be merciful, or offer generosity. That’s ours to figure out, not his. His words are intended “to stir thought, trouble sleep, and provide some wider perspective” (Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, 15).
He’s not telling us what to see, he’s teaching us how to see. He’s not giving us the answers, he’s inviting us to ask better questions. And that’s what I want us to do. I want us to consider some questions about four themes that I think run through today’s gospel: tension, behavior, choice, and pain.
We all live in that gap between today’s gospel and our own patterns of thinking and behaving. We’re always negotiating the distance between Jesus’ teaching and the reality of our day to day life.
Do you feel that tension in your life? In what ways does it come up for you? What parts of today’s gospel conflict with and challenge your politics, your words and actions, the messages with which you grew up, the values that direct and drive your life?
In each of our lives there are contradictions between who we say we are and who we show ourselves to be, between our beliefs and our actions, between our life in Christ and our life in the world. How are you holding that tension and which side is winning?
We often think of faith as being about what we believe, but what about our behavior? What if faith is about how we live? What if it’s about doing the gospel? What if our behavior is an indicator of what we believe and who or what really matters to us?
Look at your actions and listen to your words in light of today’s gospel. What do you see? What do you hear? Where is there alignment and where is there misalignment? What consequences are your words and actions having on others? Is what you say and do congruent with today’s gospel?
What behaviors do you need to change or stop for the well being of another or yourself? How might you better embody and align yourself with Jesus’s words today? Do you want to?
Every day you and I make one of two choices. We either choose to be large or we choose to be small. And what we choose affects others.
If we choose to be small we will keep score, act with violence, seek retribution, and make our relationships conditioned on who the other is and what he or she does.
If we choose to be large it will be in recognition that something other than security, protection, power, reciprocity, and balancing the books is seeking our attention and animating our life. It will call us to be less fearful, less suspicious, less anxious, and less needy. It changes our attitudes toward others. It creates space for others.
Which are you choosing these days? Are your choices enlarging or diminishing your life? Are you choosing the large or the small? Are you choosing another or yourself? What would it look like in your life today to choose the large and live large? And what would that take?
One of the things I know is that the pain of the world is great. Everyone has a story of pain hidden behind the life she or he shows to the world. I can never really know what is going on in the life of another. Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn but to be forgiving. Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who abuse us. Maybe that’s why we are not to return violence for violence. Because we don’t really know the other’s story.
That not knowing is why we must continue to hold the tension, pay attention to our behavior, and choose the large.
You and I may not be able to diminish or take away the pain of the world but neither do we have to add to it. That’s the bottom line for me in today’s gospel. Are you and I adding to the pain of the world, to the life of another? And if we are, what needs to change? How can we do things differently? How might we stop? Will we stop?
Chances are there is someone in each of our lives who is hanging on by a thread; a family member, a friend, a colleague, a stranger, someone who is a fixture in our life or someone who is just passing through. Sometimes we know they are hanging on by a thread, other times we don’t. They’re in need of love, mercy and forgiveness, prayer, a blessing, compassion, generosity, the benefit of the doubt, an open heart and open hands. We all know what that’s like, we’ve been there too.
Let’s not be the scissors that cuts their thread.