The Seventh Sunday after The Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 5:38-48

WE BRING TO A CLOSE THIS MORNING OUR LOOK AT THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. JESUS HAS BEEN TELLING HIS LISTENERS WHAT LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL BE LIKE, AND WHAT IS EXPECTED OF THEM OF HOW THEY ARE TO LIVE WITH ONE ANOTHER. IN THIS LAST SECTION OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, JESUS ELABORATES ON HOW THE CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM ARE TO RELATE TO THE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD AROUND THEM; SPECIFICALLY TO THOSE WHO DO NOT HAVE THE LAW OF GOD WRITTEN ON THEIR HEARTS. MOST PEOPLE INTERPRET WHAT JESUS SAYS AS A NON – VIOLENT PASSIVITY; BUT, IN REALITY, WHAT JESUS OUTLINES FOR US, WHILE IT IS NON – VIOLENT, IS ANYTHING BUT PASSIVE. HE IS NOT AT ALL RECOMMENDING THAT HIS FOLLOWERS BE A DOOR MAT ON WHICH THE WORLD CAN WIPE ITS FEET; HE IS ESTABLISHING FOR HIS FOLLOWERS A DIFFERENT WAY OF REACTING TO THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS THAT COME TO ALL PEOPLE, AND WILL COME ESPECIALLY TO THOSE WHO FOLLOW JESUS. WE MUST NOTE THAT HE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT THE DEFENSE OF OTHERS, BY PREVENTING THEIR BEING HURT OR INJURED, BUT IS TALKING ABOUT OUR PERSONAL RESPONSE TO INSULT OR PERSECUTION.

HE BEGINS BY RECITING THE FORMULA OF, “YOU HAVE HEARD IT WAS SAID;” THEN CITES THE LEX TALIONUS OF AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH. WHILE THIS SOUNDS HARSH TO MODERN EARS, IT WAS A VAST IMPROVEMENT OVER THE ANCIENT TRIBAL CUSTOM OF TAKING GREAT RETRIBUTION FOR ANY HURT OR INSULT. MUCH OF THE WORLD STILL WORKS THIS WAY, WHERE AN INJURY TO A MEMBER OF A TRIBE BY A MEMBER OF ANOTHER TRIBE CAN, AND OFTEN DOES, LEAD TO A TOTAL WAR BETWEEN TRIBES. THE LEX TALIONUS, OR LAW OF CALCULATION, SET A LIMIT ON THE EXTENT OF RETRIBUTION ONE COULD TAKE FOR AN INJURY OR INSULT. JESUS, HOWEVER, LEADS HIS FOLLOWERS BEYOND EVEN A LIMITED RETRIBUTION TO A NON – VIOLENT TURNING BACK OF THE INSULT ONTO THE OFFENDER.

THE ADMONITION TO NOT RESIST AN EVILDOER IS MORE PROPERLY TRANSLATED AS DO NOT RESIST WITH VIOLENCE. THE RESISTANCE JESUS ADVOCATES IS AN ACTIVE RESISTANCE TO THE EFFECT AN EVIL ACTION MAY HAVE ON YOU. HE GIVES US THREE EXAMPLES OF THIS NEW WAY OF RESISTING EVIL.

IF ANYONE STRIKES YOU ON THE RIGHT CHEEK, TURN THE OTHER ALSO. SINCE MOST PEOPLE ARE RIGHT HANDED, IN ORDER FOR SOMEONE TO STRIKE YOU ON YOUR RIGHT CHEEK, THEY WOULD HAVE TO USE A LEFT HOOK. JESUS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT A FIGHT; HE IS TALKING ABOUT THE GRAVE INSULT OF BEING SLAPPED ACROSS THE FACE WITH THE BACK OF THE HAND. IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, THIS WAS WORSE THAN SLANDER OR LIBEL, BECAUSE IT DISMISSED THE VICTIM AS BENEATH THE DIGNITY OF FIGHTING AS AN EQUAL. TO TURN THE OTHER CHEEK IS TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THE OPINION OF THE ONE WHO STRUCK YOU IS OF NO IMPORTANCE, AND WOULD TURN HIS INSULT BACK ON HIM IN EMBARRASSMENT. YOU MIGHT GET STRUCK AGAIN, BUT HE WOULD LOOK FOOLISH IN DOING SO.

IF ANYONE WANTS TO SUE YOU AND TAKE YOUR COAT, GIVE YOUR CLOAK AS WELL. IN THE FIRST CENTURY, MOST PEOPLE HAD LITTLE OF VALUE EXCEPT THEIR COAT, OR TUNIC, AND THEIR CLOAK; SO YOU COULD LITERALLY BE SUED FOR THE SHIRT ON YOUR BACK. YOU COULD ALSO BE SUED FOR YOUR CLOAK, BUT, BECAUSE IT WAS WHAT YOU SLEPT IN, IT HAD TO BE RETURNED TO YOU BY SUNDOWN. JESUS TELLS HIS FOLLOWERS THAT IF SOMEONE WANTS TO INSULT AND HUMILIATE YOU BY TAKING YOUR TUNIC, TOSS YOUR CLOAK TO HIM AS WELL, AND STAND THERE IN YOUR LOIN CLOTH TO SHOW THAT HIS TREATMENT OF YOU HAS NO IMPORTANCE. IF HE EITHER TAKES YOUR CLOAK OR GIVES IT BACK, HE LOSES WHAT POWER HE THOUGHT HE HAD OVER YOU.

IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO ALSO THE SECOND MILE. THE ROMAN SOLDIERS CARRIED AROUND NINETY POUNDS OF EQUIPMENT ON THE MARCH, AND THEY WERE ALLOWED TO IMPRESS BYSTANDERS INTO CARRYING THEIR LOAD TO TAKE A BREAK. AN EXAMPLE OF THIS PRACTICE WAS WHEN SIMON OF CYRENE WAS MADE TO CARRY THE CROSS OF JESUS. THE CONQUERED PEOPLES DID NOT LIKE THIS AT ALL, ESPECIALLY THE JEWS WHO WOULD BE MADE UNCLEAN BY TOUCHING ROMAN EQUIPMENT. TO PREVENT UNREST, THE ROMANS HAD A LAW, WHICH THEY ENFORCED STRICTLY; ONE MILE AND NO MORE. IF YOU WILLINGLY CARRIED THE SOLDIER’S EQUIPMENT MORE THAN ONE MILE, YOU WOULD FORCE HIM TO TELL YOU TO STOP, OR HE WOULD FACE MILITARY PUNISHMENT. THIS WAS, INDEED, ACTIVE NON – VIOLENT RESISTANCE.

WHEN JESUS TELLS HIS FOLLOWERS TO GIVE TO ANYONE WHO BEGS FROM YOU, AND TO LEND TO ANYONE WHO ASKS, HE ADDRESSES THE DEBT CRISIS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. AT THE END OF SEVEN YEARS, ALL DEBTS WERE CANCELLED; PAID IN FULL OR NOT. THAT MEANT THAT NO ONE WANTED TO LEND MONEY AFTER THE FIRST OR SECOND YEAR. WHAT JESUS TELLS HIS FOLLOWERS IS TO NOT BE LIMITED BY THE LETTER OF THE LAW, BUT LET THE LAW OF GOD WRITTEN IN YOUR HEART GOVERN YOUR ACTIONS. GIVE TO OTHERS AS GOD GIVES TO YOU.

THIS LEADS TO HOW WE ARE TO RELATE TO ALL OTHERS, EVEN TO THOSE WHO ARE OUR ENEMIES. HE TELLS US TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES AND TO PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US, WHICH, AGAIN, IS A VERY ACTIVE NON – VIOLENT RESISTANCE TO EVIL. IF WE HATE OUR ENEMIES, THERE IS NO POSSIBILITY OF RECONCILIATION. OF COURSE, WE MUST TAKE PRECAUTIONS AND PROTECT OUR SELVES AND OTHERS FROM HARM, BUT TO DO SO WITH A LOVE FOR ALL PEOPLE IN OUR HEARTS. JUST AS GOD HOLDS OUT THE HOPE OF RECONCILIATION FOR ALL, EVEN THE EVIL DOERS, SO MUST WE, AND, IN SO DOING, BE THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD.

BE PERFECT, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. THIS COMMAND IS THE CULMINATION OF THE ENTIRE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. THE WORD TRANSLATED AS PERFECT IS TELIOS, WHICH DOES NOT MEAN THE STRIVING FOR SOME IDEAL STATE OF BEING, BUT THE END TOWARDS WHICH WE ARE MOVING. IT MIGHT BETTER BE TRANSLATED AS BE FULLY MATURE, AS YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS FULLY MATURE. THE LIFE OF THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS IS A LIFE OF CONSTANT GROWTH, STRIVING DAILY, LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, TO BE MORE CHRIST LIKE IN OUR HEARTS, MINDS, AND ACTIONS; AND, THEREFORE, MORE AND MORE LIKE THE CHILDREN OF OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN. THIS DOES NOT COME IMMEDIATELY, BUT ONLY AS WE LOSE MORE AND MORE OF OUR SELVES AND TAKE ON MORE AND MORE OF THE PERSON OF JESUS IN OUR BEING, AND AS WE LIVE OUT, MORE AND MORE, GOD’S LAW WRITTEN ON OUT HEARTS.

THERE IS NO BETTER GUIDE FOR OUR GROWTH TO FULL MATURITY THAN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, AND SO, EVEN WHILE IT MAKES US UNCOMFORTABLE AT TIMES AND HIGHLIGHTS OUR SHORTCOMINGS, IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO THE END OF BEING A CHILD OF GOD.
AMEN

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