Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting Even Pt 3 (Going the Extra Mile)

41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 
Matthew 5:41 (NIV)
The issue addressed here is one of compelled service. For more than 600 years dating back to the Persians the idea of compulsory service has been reality of life for many people throughout the Middle east of the time.  We have no specific knowledge of the forms in which this was practiced in Roman Palestine, but since Persian times impressing people and animals without notice for temporary service to the authorities had been customary and legal; the practice has been well documented. The Persians were the first to create a kind of Pony Express in which the mail-carrying rider simply “borrowed” horses along the way.

The hostility that the 1st Century Jews had for their Roman masters made this even more distasteful. Whenever a Roman official or soldier could ask (compel) anyone within the Empire to carry a burden a mile, that person had to do it regardless of who he was or what the circumstances were. Almost all Jews had been subject to this, and they hated the very mention of it. It is suggested that this compulsory service was the reason behind Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry Jesus cross to Golgotha.
 This recommendation to generously and ungrudgingly comply with this law would have the power to turn an exaction into genuine public service, that was generously given to a representative of the government who has ‘need’ of it. Compulsory and often unpaid or poorly paid public service has not been uncommon in America. Think the draft that has plagued us as far back as the mid 1800’s. The Israelis require a couple of years of compulsory armed service and the Swiss do something similar. With tax season quickly coming upon us a case could be made for taxes being a form of compulsory service.

Does this mean that Jesus is endorsing the practice of impressments? No. In a situation in which changing the rules is not a possibility, the proposed response will have the capacity of turning the nature of the transaction from one in which both parties felt worse about each other after the encounter to one in which positive human interaction might become possible.

So how should we react when forced to serve our country? Well if we can’t affect a change via the polling booth we need to comply with good grace.

It has been suggested that this choice to rejoice even in the midst of discomfort, displeasure and duress was effective in the Gospel sweeping across the Roman Empire and ultimately bringing about the Christianizing of the Empire.

Learning to go the extra mile and liking it!

Pastor Val

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Getting Even Pt 2 (Coals of Fire)

In my last blog I discussed living like Jesus who resisted the temptation to retaliate against his enemies. We specifically looked at His teaching from Matthew 5:38-ff.

In this blog I want to continue looking at this passage from Jesus most famous of sermons the “Sermon on the Mount.”

40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matthew 5:40 (NIV)

 In this teaching it is easy to conclude several things. One there is a case against the defendant. Two, since the suit is seeking the person’s tunic we can assume the defendant presumably poor. Obviously if the defendant had more possessions the plaintiff would ask for something more substantial. Three notice that the suit does not ask for the defendant’s cloak. This is his outer garment. You see the plaintiff is literally seeking the “shirt off the back” of the defendant.

At first glance this looks a bit odd to a twenty-first century person living in the west. It isn’t until we understand that a person’s cloak was the most important piece of clothing a person owned. It doubled as a coat or a means to carry grain or heavy objects by day and a blanket or even pillow by night.

One has to admit that the taking of the very clothes of of a debtor’s back is rather callous at the least and perhaps against the law.

25 "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
26 If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset,
27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
Exodus 22:25-27 (NIV)
While this seems so unfair and unreasonable to us, we only have to look at some of the laws and judgments handed down in this country to see how possible this scenario is. The stripping naked of this poor person graphically reveals the destruction of human dignity, in which the plaintiff is engaged in. Notice that Jesus taught that the plaintiff’s demands are not to be resisted, instead He teaches us to exceed their unjust demands. In the process the plaintiffs are unmasked for what they are. The end result is to heap coals of fire on their head.

20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Romans 12:20 (NIV)
Still learning to give it all away

Pastor Val

Friday, February 3, 2012

Getting Even!

Have you ever been cut off by someone on the road and you want a little payback so you ride their bumper or race to get in front of them so you can return the favor?

Your friend stabs you in the back and you wait in the tall grass until you can repay the favor.

Or your coworker or boss has you spend a ton of extra time on your own (weekends and evenings) doing a project only to have them take all of the credit, glory and more than a few attaboys form those higher up!

Life seems to be full of events that just beg for payback!

Have you ever considered God’s position on paybacks?

In the Old Testament the concept of “an eye for a eye” seems harsh in today’s culture but actually it was designed to stop the escalating of retaliations like a head for a eye. Reflecting over some of the famous feuds in fiction as the Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet or history like the Hatfields and the McCoys of the southern hills of the United States points to how long lasting feuds and their consequences can be.

Hammurabi was one of the first rulers to codify the limiting of retribution as well as some 281 other laws. Some have suggested that the Old Testament writers used this code to help them codify the laws of the Old Testament while others claim that the oral traditions of the Jewish law existed prior to Hammurabi. Regardless of which side you fancy the truth still remains that the law existed to limit the scope of reprisals.

So when the Law teaches us an eye for an eye it is talking about proportionate reprisals. Unfortunately today we still tend to often go for the nuclear response for a minor infraction. We have morphed the proportionate reprisals into a principle of aggressive protection of one’s own interests!

So Jesus comes along and says:
 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
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)
The words “I tell you…” creates a whole new way of looking at getting even. He starts with our being struck on the right cheek that is most likely is caused by a right-handed person backhanding. This is not about a beat down but rather a personal insult! How do you and I respond being insulted? Usually we retaliate but Jesus suggests that we continue to be vulnerable and allow God to stand up for us.

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Romans 12:19 (NIV)

Jesus himself modeled this for us while he was here

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)

So we are encouraged to imitate Christ and not to seek retribution.

A pretty BIG challenge - especially for me! How about you??

I hope to continue this theme in the next blog or two

Learning to understand suffering

Pastor Val