Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting Even Pt 4 (Giving When the Going Gets Tough)

My final post on Getting Even is based on Matthew 5:42

42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
This admonishment of Jesus seems to be best understood two ways: first we are commanded to live open-handedly and second we are commanded to be willing to give or lend to those who persecute us but to treat it as a gift.

Yeah I admit I’m not real crazy about that second one either – but more on that in a bit!

If Matthew’s fourth example deals with the request of the beggar, then the called-for openhandedness is in line with the long Jewish tradition of almsgiving. There is no precise definition for this kind of behavior that is called for, but, as with the other examples, it involves responding appropriately to an initiative taken by another.

Here there is a request apparently from a person of poor means or the second tier from the bottom when a loan is requested. In this instance it is no longer a matter of response to mistreatment, or even to forced conduct, but a straightforward request for help. This teaching seems to relate to the Pentateuch’s teaching on generous living.

7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NIV)
Jesus calls his followers to give to those who ask and not turn away from those who would borrow. He presumes that the needs are genuine and commands us not to ignore them, but he does not specifically mandate how best we can help. As Augustine stated in his comments on this passage “give to everyone that asks,” and notgive everything to him that asks.
Now if you are like me you are wondering, “Does this mean we are to give to every freeloader and panhandler who comes our way?” I do not think so. If we practiced this we would not be good stewards of God’s funds. People could abuse our generosity and we could even end up bankrupt. Jesus is not recommending that his followers give to every open hand, though, of course, he calls us all to deep generosity.

What then does he mean? This is where we seem to come to the second meaning I suggested at the beginning of this blog. Jesus means that the righteous are to give to those who are attempting to hurt them through borrowing. Luke refers to this kind of persecution when he says,

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back
Luke 6:35

To understand this second possible meaning I think that Jesus’ advise is for a specific situation in which the persecutor is demanding a loan with no intention to repay. Jesus never says how many times one is to loan to his persecutors. Nor does he mention the restraint that love will impose on one’s generosity. As Alexander Maclaren (a British pastor of renown in the 19th and early 20th century) wisely said:

If turning the cheek would make the assaulter more angry, or if yielding the cloak would make the legal robber more greedy, or going the second mile would but make the press gang more severe and exacting, resistance becomes a form of love and duty for the sake of the wrongdoer.
Jesus’ advice is not a set of mechanical rules, but rather principles for addressing personal wrongs that come to those who follow him. In the matter of loaning, the Lord wants his followers to reject being tightfisted, and penny-pinching. Instead of saying, “This is mine and I’ll never share it!” why not say, “Lord how should I respond to this request, this need?” Will honoring this request bring you glory or advance your Kingdom?

I have to say that some of Jesus’ teachings are hard to live out. I always find it interesting that many Bible literalists struggle with teaching and living out Jesus clear literal teachings. It is something that I struggle with as well. And yet if we are going to be fully devoted followers of Jesus – we must live out our lives in obedience to His commands and not our predisposed interpretations of His teachings.

Still trying to pry my hand open

Pastor Val

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