Tag Archives: enemies

The Sermon, part 12: Sixth Anthesis

Read Matthew 5:43-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, the proud may not stand in Your presence, for You hate all who do evil.” (Psalms 5:5 NLT)

Risen “You have heard the law says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!” Jesus proclaims his sixth and final antithesis to what must have been a stunned crowd. Honestly, these words should stun even us today! As of 2012, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, which makes up about 31.5% of the world’s population. Out of that 2.2 billion, how many of us truly give a wholehearted attempt to love our enemies?

As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there is NO COMMANDMENT in the Hebrew Scriptures stating that one should hate his/her enemies. Jesus’ language here is hyperbolic and rhetorical. What Jesus is doing is taking the conventional wisdom and purposfully conflating it with the law, not for any dubious purpose but because individuals and societies have often conflated the two. In the Hebrew Scriptures it says that God hates all evildoers (e.g. Psalms 5:5). What’s more, it follows that God’s people would hate evildoers as well (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:3-7; 30:7; Psalms 26:5; 139:21-22).

This is not to say that all Jews advocated for hating one’s enemies, and I would be amiss to even possibly imply that. That is not the case at all, nor is Jesus making that case. What Jesus is doing is shifting the extension love from just “God’s people” to all people, for God created all people (including the evildoers). I would also be amiss to not state that Jesus isn’t basing his command on some sort of humanitarn and/or human rights ideal or principal; rather, he is basing it solely on HIS AUTHORITY to set his own command and appose it with the Torah. He does so based off of his knowledge of the nature of God who loves and shows no impartiality (Matthew 5:45).

What’s more, his juxtapositioning of his command with the Torah reminds us of God’s eschatological (end-time) plan being enacted in the coming Kingdom. Jesus saw himself as the advent of God’s Kingdom, and he saw his disciples as children of God and “citizens” of that Kingdom. Thus, Jesus commands that his disciples conduct themselves in a way that is consistent and appropriate with their status as children of God and citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus then uses two interesting examples to further his point. “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much” (Matthew 5:45-46 NLT).

While Jesus was known to be “friends of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19), and while we know that Jesus saw his messages a being inclusive of Gentiles (aka “pagans”, Matthew 28:18-20), he uses these two examples because of the general disdain among Jews for tax collectors and Gentiles. And there was good reason for that disdain. Tax collectors were unpatriotic Jews who were employed by the Romans to collect taxes from their own people. What’s more, they would jack up the taxes so that they could increase their profit.

Also, it was the Gentiles (aka the pagans) who were occupying and tainting the Holy Land. It was the Romans, and the Greeks before them, and the Babylonians before them, and the Assyrians before them, and the Phillistines before them, and Egypt before them who had continually kept Judah and Israel from being an independent and sovereign nations. On top of that, the Jews were divided against themselves, with some wishing to become even more like the Gentiles.

Thus, Jesus is showing the extent of God’s impartiality, and the extent in which he EXPECTS his disciples to be impartial in their showing love to others. How can you call yourself God’s children if you are doing no different than the corrupt tax collectors or the idolatrous Gentiles? How can you say, “I am God’s” if your actions scream “blessed be the WAY OF THE WORLD!” Therefore, Jesus concludes his series of antitheses with this command, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Reflect on this. Do not dilute Jesus’ call for perfection in order to find comfort and shelter from what is seemingly impossible and unattainable. Let it, for the next several days, sink in and stir up in you a desire to understand what Jesus means by perfect. Let it cause you to reflect on your own actions and on whether or not your life has lived up to God’s expectations. In our next devotion, we will take a deeper look at this seemingly impossible command.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
To hate anyone is to participate in evil. To participate in evil is to become an evildoer.

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from hate, especially when it is an easier path than love. Keep my heart righteous, my thoughts pure, and my actions holy. Amen.

Killing Strangers

Read Revelation 13:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52 CEB)

Marilyn-Manson

Is it just me or does it seem like the world is spinning completely out of control? The news is daily filled with stories of people killing other people. Growing up, I remember hearing of murders here or there, I remember the shock that would bring to me everytime I heard of someone’s violent demise. It was shocking because it didn’t happen to often, or it was at least less often brought to my attention, so that when I heard of such violent acts I was horrified by it.

Nowadays, I must admit, that I am not shocked to hear of such things at all. If anything, like most in our society, I have grown numb to it. That’s not to say that I am apathetic to the people who suffer. I am an empath, meaning that I can easily put myself in the shoes of others and will often feel the pain others are going through, not to the same level as the suffering, but enough to empathize with them. Yet, overall, I have grown numb (in that I am not shocked) to the constant barraging of violent extremism in this country. It has, sadly, become the norm.

We live in the age of the sword. People no longer can look at the other, despite the differences they have, and see common humanity in them. Rather, they see the other as being the enemy. They embrace the spirit of Satan, which is the spirit of divisiveness and enmity. They avoid, at all costs, the long, hard road of open, honest, and painful communication. They avoid seeking to understand the other, as well as seeking the other to understand them, and they resort to pointing the finger, scapegoating, warring with others, and taking lives. From our politicians modeling this kind of enmity in their campaigns to common protestors who are outraged over injustice, violence is becoming the modus operandi for getting oneself or one’s group heard.

It is understandable how people can resort to violence. When groups of people suffer seemingly endless injustice, while others are treated with respect and dignity, that is angering. When groups of people who are being discriminated against feel like the majority of people are not hearing them out or understanding their woes, that adds fuel to the already stoked fire. Even more, when the majority of people want to keep things exactly as they are because it suits them at the great cost of others, and they discount or deny the experiences of discrimination that others are going through, that can be a rallying cry for those who are fed up with being silenced in their suffering.

Yet, violence almost never helps anyone’s cause, but often begets more violence. We saw that in the shootings of Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. The shootings of two black males by police officers, resulted in someone angrily taking justice into their own hands by shooting unwary police officers who were just trying to ensure the safety of protestors in Dallas, and they were officers who had nothing to do with the previous shootings. We also see this at the often chaotic and sometimes violent rallies of our presidential candidates. People in both of these instances, and beyond are fed up with NOT being heard and are, unfortunately, venting their frustrations violently. As one candidate’s followers get violent toward the other’s, the other candidate’s followers retaliate.

This reminds me of two Marilyn Manson songs. In his song, “Killing Strangers,” Manson writes that “we’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love.” This is a profound truth, in that out of frustration we resort to killing the other, the stranger, in order to “protect” those we love and care about. The problem is that those “strangers” often did nothing, and would do nothing, to deserve being killed.

In his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson writes, “Cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” This, of course, is imagery taken straight from the book of Revelation. While Manson is writing about how the church created the “evil” they perceive him, and others, to be, I believe that these lyrics apply here as well. We use the sword (proverbial or literal) to cut down our perceived enemies, only to see those enemies rise back up to strike us back.

The question for us is this, when does the violence stop? Surely, there is truth in Jesus’ warning that “those who live by the sword will surely die by it.” I am not saying that all violence is uncalled for, but when we are reactive in violent and destructive ways as a result of our fear and anger, that almost always leads down the path of destruction. We may be killing strangers to begin with, but we are killing pieces of our own souls in the process, and reaping the harvest of our seeds of fear and anger. Let us, as Jesus taught, lay down our swords and seek the better, more righteous way of responding to injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to find constructive and nonviolent ways of harnessing my righteous anger, for the elimination of injustice and the transformation of this world. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and Judas was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could he have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…they all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.

Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Read Matthew 16:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Matthew 7:6)

troll1Have you ever encountered a troll? You may be scratching your head at such a question. You might be wondering, “Why in the world would he ever ask me if I’ve encountered a troll?” After all, surely such a fantastical creature doesn’t exist, outside of fantasy novels and fairy tales such as “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” What an odd, and seemingly trivial question for someone to ask, right?

Yet, I ask it. Have you ever encountered a troll? My guess is you probably have even if you’ve never referred to it that way. So, what exactly is a troll? Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time reading blogs, chatting in chat rooms, or participating in discussions on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube knows what a troll is. It is very easy to find these trolls online. Indeed, one does not have to look far at all, and if one is not careful, he or she might end up a victim of trolling.

A troll, in this sense of the word, is a person who goes on to blogs, into chatrooms, into conversations on social media and seeks to cause trouble. They will go online and, as the Urban Dictionary defines it, “deliberately post provocative messages with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Such a person, in the online community, is referred to as a troll…for obvious reasons.

While Jesus didn’t have the Internet in his day, he certainly had his share of trolls. People were purposely setting out traps for him to fall into, with the intention of discrediting him, causing disruption and division among the people following him. These people were out to get Jesus, and they made trolling him their mission in life every chance they got.  Yet, they could never seem to get an edge on Jesus, and he taught his disciples to turn the other cheek all the while moving on from people who clearly had no intention of engaging in serious and sincere dialog with them.

Often times, we want to please others to the point that we will endure all sorts of abuse. We want people to like us and we want people to accept us. We want them to see worth in us and to at least see our worldview as being valid; however, some people are simply not interested in seeing that no matter what you do to show it to them. Some people are simply out to trap, humiliate and discourage you.

While Jesus did call us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, he did not call us to suffer abuse needlessly. There are times when we suffer abuse unexpectedly and that is bad enough. We certainly do not need to be persistently putting ourselves in situations that set us up for abuse. In fact, loving our enemies sometimes means recognizing that there can be no mutual relationship with them and, therefore, recognizing the need to let such a relationship go.

That may be a hard thing to do, but sometimes it is the loving thing to do. Jesus did it with those who only intended to troll him and his followers, with those who refused to seriously engage in a meaningful and constructive way. It follows, then, that Jesus frees you to do the same. Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t play into their game of division and derision. It’s simply not worth it as there is nothing you can do to change them. As Jesus rightfully said, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls before swine, or they trample them under their foot and turn to maul you.” But do not hold grudges either. Rather, lovingly and respectfully let such people go and continue building meaningful relationships of hope, healing and wholeness with those who truly seek it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:16-17.

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to profoundly and unconditionally love everyone, and to learn to let go out of that love. Amen.