<If you’d like to listen to this while drinking your coffee, click here.>
Are you ready?
38 “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Reciprocity has No Place in an Economy of Grace
Pray with me:
You tell us to love our enemies,
Turn the other cheek,
Give up our need for revenge.
You must know how hard this is for us,
Help make us complete as you are complete
Otherwise we’re lost.
This past Thursday our faithful admin assistant Lois, unbeknownst to me, lugged 12 dirty coffee mugs out of my office and washed them secretly. Onlooker reports have not been quiet about their surprise at this feat, not the shock that she would do such a thing, but the shock that such a thing would be necessary.
Those onlookers, and perhaps you, too, are underestimating two things: the extent of my coffee addiction, and the roughness of that particular work-week.
When I saw my clean coffee mugs lined up by the staff sink, my heart was full of both joy and shame. I never would have asked for such a thing, but was eternally grateful it had happened. But the shame is something important to note here because, here’s the thing: I can never pay that back. It’s a simple act, but I will never be able to offer a reciprocal action to offset it.
Rhonda lovingly called Lois an enabler, as only a spouse’s perspective can. I called her a vessel of grace.
Here’s a tough truth for us today, and this is a short sermon, so we must pay close attention to the truth-points when they come up, yes? So here’s a tough truth for us to chew on today: if you were coming into the faith from the outside, and heard that Jesus expected you to love your enemy, to turn the other cheek, and to give up your desire for revenge when wronged, would you sign up?
It’s a question all Christians should ask themselves today, on this Sunday when it comes so full-throated from the Gospel text. And be honest with yourself, because it may have bearing on what you do next Sunday.
The desire for revenge is strong, Beloved. It is strong within us. We say two wrongs don’t make a right, but then we go and kill killers on the extreme end, and on the mild end we ignore that friend who we feel has been ignoring us.
Because they deserve it.
The economy of the world is one of meritocracy, this is true. We talk a big talk about getting what we deserve, and in pious circles about being humbled by getting what we don’t while secretly believing our piety does warrant some extra graces in a world where so many are so impious.
But Jesus’ economy is one of grace, Beloved. Pure grace. No meritocracy or false piety.
Such grace reminds me of a favorite poem from a Muslim Sufi mystic, Hafiz, who wrote:
Even after all this time
The Sun never says to the Earth
“You owe me”
And look what happens
With that kind of love
It lights up the whole sky
It’s hard to wrap our heads around, but it is simply true. Our own blessed Martin Luther once exclaimed that he “suffered the grace of God upon him.” He suffered because he desperately wanted to do everything in his life to earn that grace, only realizing half-way through his life that he couldn’t and he must simply let the gift be a gift…he couldn’t pay it back or buy it in the first place.
This is good news for us, Beloved, because we’re very bad at turning the other cheek, an act of resistant love, by the way. I expounded upon that in my Faithprints article this last weekend.
But we’d much rather have revenge, love those who are good to us, and hold grudges against those we feel aren’t good to us. That’s our base instinct, but when we do so we turn into a baser form of person, one who follows their instinct rather than Christ.
The Right Reverend Desmond Tutu once said, “When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognize the humanity in others.”
But if you knew that reciprocity had no place in God’s economy, that Christ would ask you to give up your desire for revenge, encourage you to loving resistance against those who hurt you rather than angry resistance; if you knew that God was calling you to suffer the grace upon you and extend to others than same suffering grace, would you have signed up for all of this?
It’s a good question.
But here’s something I’ll say about this economy of grace: it is certainly difficult to live under. It is difficult not to take for granted, and just as difficult not to try to circumvent through efforts to earn grace on the sly, as futile as that is.
But it’s one that Jesus lived in as he looked down from the height of cross to spy the height and depth and breadth of humanity at war with one another and at war with God and, instead of uttering hurt and calling for crucifixions, called out “Father, forgive them…they don’t know what they’re doing.”
And, truly, if you watch the news or even just watch your own actions in anger and frustration, we do not.
Gratefully, we don’t have to get it right to receive grace. The mugs just get washed, is another way to say it. And, perhaps today we’ll realize that in such a way that we can live better into that grace tomorrow (I was certain to wash my mugs this week!). And we do so not to earn anything, not as reciprocity, because reciprocity has no place in an economy of grace, but as a sacrifice of praise that calls us to better embrace our own humanity light of God’s gracious Divinity. Good religion makes us better humans, not more Divine.
Before I go, I want to pose it one more time: if you knew that giving up your need for revenge and your need to only love those who look, think, and act like you was one of the things Christ was going to ask of you at the beginning, would you still walk this road to Calvary and the empty tomb?
I pray for grace as I ponder the question for myself, that it may light up my life with the son.