‘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 neighbour 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. – NRSV
I made mentioned of the ‘dissonant transformative power’ of Jesus teaching in the Sermon of the Mount.
Today is out there dissonant!
In my closest relationships, when one of us is getting a bit obsessive about something we are passionate about (for me it’s cricket, or it could be work or parenting) someone who cares about me will often drop the line out loud “Perfection is a myth”! It breaks the intensity!
But here it is today straight up…
Be perfect!… not do the best you can , not be balanced and level headed about the limitations of reality, not be all that you can be.
William Brosend says we shouldn’t be surprised,
“Jesus pronounces a series of patently ridiculous blessings then seems to moderate with sayings about salt and light that end up making equally ridiculous claims. This is followed by an assertion that he himself has come to fulfil the law, not curtail in any fashion, and then he tosses in a warning to any who presume to lessen the demands of the law, bringing the section to a rousing coda with an insistence that his hearers righteousness exceed the most notable standards of the day…. then…not to resist evil and to love one’s enemies. After all that are we really going to be surprised that Jesus wraps things up by telling us to be perfect!”
He goes on to say that it’s all impossible in a way that I think dismisses too much of the ethical content of the Sermon. (eg. Turning the other cheek in this culture is not passively ‘NOT resisting evil’, but is a victim honouring their own dignity, breaking the the cycle of violence through engaged, active, assertive, creative non-violence which shames and confronts the perpetrator according to the custom and laws of the day.)
I do however like Brosend’s contention that “What he (Matthew) seems really to be after is not an improvement in our morality, but a recasting of our theology”…. God as our ‘Father in Heaven’ is a big motif in Matthew’s story… what does it mean to be a child of, family of, flesh and blood, a chip of the old block, descendants and heirs of of legacy such as God. Does this sound awesome or terrifyingly daunting to you.
“What if t is, as already hinted, a “Perfection is not an accumulation of good deeds, restrained actions, and pure desires. What if “Perfection is a state of being… our birthright” (according to Jesus)! … bit like “You ARE the salt” heard earlier.
“The command to be perfect is not a call to devout and holy actions, it is an invitation to self recognition, to a level of theological awareness that requires an embrace of the gift given at creation. To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect means height more nor less than to be who we already are, in God’s image. “
He goes on about not being God’s ourself but their being a family resemblance and talking about how kids enter the kingdom naturally ‘as if they owned the place’ As we shall consider in WAY #32.
I love the grace of all this but it lacks the grounded-ness of the ethics. Yeah I get that but that doesn’t mean we just flippantly lose the substance of ‘devout and holy actions.’ What about the challenge of people like Gandhi who seem to be able to live the ethic in life and society changing ways a whole lot more ‘perfectly’ than many followers of Jesus. Surely recognising we are children of God means we at least have some means to reflect the character of God in loving our enemies as God does. To imagine that it IS possible in new ways.
Steven Eason says,
“Can we challenge the church to love and pray for it’s enemies… to go deeper and be that kind of extreme church in the world? Go past sending get well cards, visiting a few homebound members, potlucks, Sunday school… Be such an extreme church that somebody would want to be a part of it. Live in such a way that somebody would beg you to take their money, their time, and their talents to promote such a church in the world today. We had better pray that Jesus was serious and that he still is”
Pray for an enemy, inside the church or out. How may Jesus teaching be guiding you to become the answer to your prayer?