Subtitle: Or do you think I’ve lost mine?
Prologue: In these days of heightened American rancor, with the heat of a presidential impeachment trial in the air, when our national temperature is elevated, our national temper raw, when our social fabric is riven by divisions, personal and political, when old friends, with the utterance of one more disagreeable word than tolerable, become new enemies, when I, as much as the next person, am given to the temptation to fall prey to the reigning, raging animus of these days, I have engaged in long conversations with Jesus about his teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone takes your coat, give your cloak as well…Love your enemies…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.38-39, 40b, 44a, 48).
Okay, Jesus, I think I get it. Well, at least, some of it.
When you say, when you command that I am to love my enemies, you’re not talking only about what I do. Are you? But also, more about the way things are. The way the world is. Right?
The world, this world where, on the first page of the manual, Being Human, the standard operating procedure, written, in invisible, but no less perceptible ink, long ago by an ancient hand (sometime shortly after that incident in the Garden of Eden, perhaps at the time of that dust-up between Cain and Abel over a deadly misunderstanding about God’s favor), reads: Hate Your Enemies!
You’re nodding your head, Jesus. That’s what I thought! That you have a problem with the way the world and we humans operate. That this world is at cross-purposes with God’s will. That your cross of crucifixion is the chiefest evidence of the mess that the world is, the mess who we are.
Thank you, Jesus. I understand more of your point than I thought!
But, wait a minute, Jesus! “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” lex talionis, the law of retaliation, is found in at least two places in the Torah as a governing principle of Hebrew justice. And its origin goes all the way back to the Code of Hammurabi (well, yes, Jesus, I know, that’s not eternal, but it is nearly four thousand years old!). And it was intended as a merciful principle, so to limit vengeance and to match the measure of punishment to the measure of the offense. You’re not denying the value and the purpose of law, are you? Without laws, there would be chaos! More chaos than we already have!
Jesus, I see you shaking your head. So, you’re not opposed to law in principle. Right? Okay, but you are clear that our human laws, even at best – written clearly and applied evenly – can’t govern our human relationships the way God desires, indeed, the way God hath designed. Ah, I see!
So, Jesus, now what?
Illustration: The Beatitudes (aka The Sermon on the Mount), James Tissot (1836-1902)