Wednesday 14 August 2019

Matthew 5 v 38-42.
This is a well known gospel passage, and one often misunderstood in a way that our Lord never intended. When Jesus quoted the law of Moses, which spoke of an eye for an eye, He was referring to the principle of justice which called for punishment to be proportionate to the crime committed.   It was never meant to be literally observed.

When a person committed any crime they would be placed before a civil court,and if found guilty were punished according to the severity of the offence, but were not to be excessively penalised.  This gave confidence to society that punishment was no more or less than deserved.  Jesus abolished the old law of vengeance for a Christian, and wanted to advise against any tit for tat reaction.  

Jesus went on to give three examples of a Christian spirit in action.  When Jesus was giving His teaching, much of it was to uneducated Jewish people who too often were led astray by Pharisees, just as today many people not able to think rationally, are misled by slick talking politicians. This passage was a continuing part of a message in a sermon, calling for tolerance achieved through negotiation and not retaliation. 

There is a general attitude in people to retaliate, the idea being don’t get mad get even.  An example is given in the story of a lorry driver,who was dining in a roadside café when three young motor cyclists walked in. One went to the man and took some of the man’s meal, and a second took some more, whilst the third drank his tea.  The man just got up, and having paid his bill left the café.  One of the motor cyclists said to the waitress ‘not much of a man was he’.  The waitress said ‘I don’t know what kind of man he was, but he is an awful driver, he has just run over three motor cycles.’

When Jesus said do not resist evil, He was not suggesting we accept evil itself, He is trying to avoid unnecessary aggression. There are of course times when aggression is necessary, if we could never resist evil there would never be a need for an army or police force.  Indeed, Jesus Himself got angry when He found the money changers in the Temple.  Jesus then was calling on people not to stand fixedly on their rights. 

We all know people who are for ever talking about rights, forgetting in the process about responsibilities.  It is hard not to get upset about people who are so vociferous about minor infringements, when we think of the men and women who died in wars to preserve freedom for such people to moan about hurt feelings.  Even within the Church, we have people who get upset if they feel they have not been properly recognised. 

I worked with a Vicar,who had a wife who would have been an ideal prison guard, to ensure she was properly recognised.  Such people have never realised what Christianity really calls for.  Nor like other religions, do we believe in blowing up people or burning their property because of different beliefs.  Our God calls on us to show grace, and for us to be transformed into the image of Jesus; and ironically the more hatred and anger we generate, the more we hurt ourselves and our own health. 

Jesus also calls on us to give when asked.  Here again, we have to be discriminating.  I used to have people call at my Vicarage with the most heart rending tales, which never stood up to scrutiny.  When I offered food or to get them help through social services, all my offers were refused, for what they were really after was money.  One man came begging, and when I offered him money his face lit up, until I said he would get it if he mowed the lawn, and he looked at me as if I was from another planet.

This is what makes bishops look so out of touch; they are attacking the government’s welfare reforms from a stance not of this world.  The vast majority of people are tired of having to work hard, to subsidise people who will not work. The Labour party are shouting so loudly about food banks, which are increasing proportionately to their speeches. 

One chemist in Liverpool, wondered how there could be so many families with ipads and smart phones, and yet had to rely on food banks.  We have to consider need,and at the same time examine that need. We have charities pleading for money, when executives of the same, are earning more than the Prime Minister. 

I was once visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and an old lady was begging outside, and in a prime location of course.  Many caring Christians responded to this poor lady, dressed in an old battered hat, huddled in a shawl. I noticed whilst waiting, that she eventually got up and hobbled around a corner, where she quickly shed the shawl and hat and nipped into a waiting Mercedes car. 

In the last verses, we find Jesus teaching we must love our enemies.  I once saw an ornament in a little Welsh village shop with the message inscribed, ‘smile at your enemy, it will make him madder’.  This is not of course what Jesus meant.  We all liked to loved; we try to be friendly and personable, to get along with others, but there are always some you could never do so.  This is the reality of life, but Jesus tells us we must love them. 

May the Lord bless His Holy Word to us, and may His holy Name be praised. [

My first Vicar said to me, ‘Eric, in this job you will have to learn to love everybody, it doesn’t mean you have to like them’.  That may sound cynical but it is very practical.  A lady once told her Vicar it was all right for him to tell her to love her neighbour, when he didn’t have to live next to her. 
There are indeed people it is impossible to like.  I have to say however, that apart from the Vicar’s wife I mentioned, I have never had a lot of difficulty in the (now many) Churches I have served. 

Jesus teaching then is for us not to act like unbelievers. The love He spoke about was not the love people think of these days, which too often has a sexual connotation; too many people are keen to indulge in that kind of love.  Jesus was speaking of care and compassion. Sadly, some Christians are too keen to follow the ways of the world and love only those who love you. 

The constant call to Christians is to be like Jesus; it is God’s will that we do so.  Our call is to be people who manifest the nature of the God we serve.

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