An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Ghandi
Previously, I wrote about the pitfalls of Legislating Morality.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
I believe that Jesus meant exactly what He said. I believe that absolute truth exists. I believe that ethics and morals are not relative, that right is always right, and wrong is always wrong. I believe that Jesus is the source of truth, and that His model is the example we’re meant to emulate.
Jesus knew that the written law couldn’t sufficiently capture His truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The fullness of truth is expressed only in a personal relationship with Jesus.
It sounds so simple, as long as I don’t have to actually put it into practice. I want to follow, but I know I’ll fail. The best I can hope for is a poor but improving approximation of His desire for me.
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Matthew 5:38-48]
HE CAN’T BE SERIOUS
Jesus was either the most naïve, impractical teacher in history or He knew something about us that’s beyond the world’s experience.
Do you think He was serious? I do.
By any worldly standard, Jesus didn’t win. He was unfairly persecuted and He refused to get even. I don’t want to follow that example. I want to see my opponents defeated, exposed, and humiliated. I demand fair treatment, and I don’t want to get even, I want to get ahead.
Turn the other cheek? You can’t possibly operate in this world with that sort of approach. People will take advantage of you. How can you possibly survive, much less thrive, if you respond to evil with love? Doesn’t He understand that loving my enemy leaves me vulnerable, that unscrupulous enemies will welcome the chance to strike at the second exposed cheek?
He understands perfectly, because He experienced it. Jesus’ followers will suffer injustice and persecution. He makes only one simple guarantee: if you do it His way, you’ll be free.
AN ENDLESS CYCLE
As long as I insist upon an eye for an eye, I’m a prisoner because the other guy dictates my behavior. If he’s kind, I can be kind. But if he’s nasty, I have to react with at least an equal level of nastiness. He gossips, I have to gossip. He hits, I have to hit back.
I may get even, and I may even win. But I’m never free, because my only choice is to react to the world on its terms.
One side misuses the process and stretches the truth, so the other side misuses the process and stretches the truth to keep up. They yell, so we have to yell louder or we’ll lose the argument. Right and wrong don’t matter; you can’t let the other side get ahead. It’s the stuff of politics and punditry and politicized pulpits, and we have to follow our side’s leaders or we’ll lose.
But we’re following the wrong leaders.
Violence demands violence. Disrespect must be answered disrespectfully. Suspicion requires more suspicion. And on and on it goes, a death spiral of eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth until with world is littered with toothless blind people lashing out at one another in darkness.
And in this cycle, the real enemy, the enemy of our souls, celebrates. Followers of Jesus succumb to the world’s temptation and surrender their power to choose love. You can almost hear him whispering, “Surely God doesn’t really mean that you’re supposed to be kind and love when others do obvious wrong. Surely He doesn’t want you to let evil ideas win.” And he chuckles with glee as we bow to his subtle twisting of Jesus’ simple words.
WHAT DO WE DO?
Jesus asks us to stop the cycle. He asks us to be different from the tax collectors and pagans. He asks us to step above slavery to the world’s ways and follow His way. He asks us to serve those who intend to harm us. In His simple, naïve words, He offers the keys to the prison.
* The Pharisees command obedience to the letter of the law. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”.
* The Romans kill their enemies. Jesus forgives the soldiers who drive nails into His body.
* The enemy of our souls tells us that God wants us to win the world’s battles. Jesus asks us to look to a kingdom beyond this broken world.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1]
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17
Jesus says simply, “Follow me.” He doesn’t promise that our side will win, or that the world will be fair, or that people won’t take advantage of us. Following Jesus is naïve and impractical, except for one thing.
When you follow Jesus, you get to be free.
Why is the simple message of Jesus so difficult to implement?