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).
Jesus, last night I didn’t get much sleep. No, no, I’m not blaming you! It was my own doing. I stayed up thinking about, tussling with our conversation so far.
Let me see if I understand, at least, a bit more of your point, your command about loving my enemies.
You want, God wants me to see others, all others the way God sees them?
Even those who hurt me? Those who, therefore, I consider my enemies? Those who, as my enemies that I, as human, an instinctive survivalist, view as fair, indeed, fare-game for me, as if I was a hunter, to track down and hurt in return?
Okay, Jesus, I’m just being honest! I really wouldn’t do that! But, I confess, from time to time, I’ve thought about it. And, yes, you’ve also commanded that I not only do no murder, but that I also am never to be angry enough to think about it! I know, I know, so back to your point…
You want, God wants me to see all others for whom they are; those whom God created and, thus, whom God loves?
Okay, that’s what I thought.
So, Jesus, here’s the thing, at least, as I see it (and, may I be so bold as to aver that, after all, you are talking to me!). In order for me to do that, I have to remove myself from the center…remove myself as the center of my thinking and my feeling and my decision-making so to see things, to see others, all others not from my point of view, but only from God’s point of view.
Ha! I knew you were going to say: “Well, Paul, you, not God, being at the center of your being and doing is precisely what sin is!”
Yes, yes, I remember that the Greek word, hamartia, which, translated into English as the word sin, literally means, “to miss the mark.” So, I picture myself as an archer whose arrows, literally, my aim, and, metaphorically, my desires and intentions, land everywhere but the center of the target who is God. I’ve got it!
So, Jesus, what you’re saying is that I need to dethrone myself from the center of my life and enthrone God (which is where God always is or is supposed to be) and, thus, see everything and everyone the way God sees. I’ve got that, too!
Hmmm, on second thought (you know, Jesus, I always have second thoughts!), what I see is a paradox. To put God at the center of my life means that when I look at others, I am bringing them in from the margins and putting them at the center of my life. That I see them with God’s eyes of compassion. That, in seeing them as God sees them, I seek to understand them, even the ones I consider my enemies and that I strive to do good toward them.
Whew! That’s hard! And, yes, I know that when you said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” you didn’t mean that following you wouldn’t be difficult. After all, you also said, “If you want to be my disciple, then take up your cross and follow me.” And, at the proverbial end (which also means at the beginning and through the middle) of the day, as you died for me, you died for all, even my enemies.
So, Jesus, the only way for me not to live at cross-purposes with God’s will is to live at cross-purposes with the world’s way?
Okay, that’s what I thought you were going to say.
But, Jesus (and you had to know that a “but”, that my “but” was coming!), there are moments in this life when I believe that I must stand up on principle. Actually, principles, the chiefest for me, love and justice, that I perceive and derive from my reading and reflection on your life and ministry! There are moments in this life, Jesus, surely you know, when I cannot yield to others desires and intentions that I believe are opposed to your gospel!
So, Jesus, not if, but when that happens, what am I supposed to do?
Illustration: The Beatitudes (aka The Sermon on the Mount), James Tissot (1836-1902)