One of the many political and social quagmires we find ourselves in these days is the discussion about borders, most especially U.S. Borders. There is a lot of conversation about who should be inside our borders and who outside. There are many words that have become commonplace in everyday conversation; refugee, alien, illegals, vetting, extreme and even ICE. I am not going to proselytize on my personal position but rather invite us all to take another look at what Jesus says about it, according to the Gospel of Matthew, read today which is relevant to us.
As there was in the scripture reading last Sunday, there is a convention that Jesus uses in this week’s text that goes like this: “you have heard that it was said..” and then he completes the sentence. Afterward he says, “But I say to you…” and he gives his version of the thing he wants to make a point about. There is an academic name for this Biblical device but suffice it to say that what Jesus is doing is turning the tables over on the way perspectives have been commonly held in the minds of his people for thousands of years and he offers an alternative, which he believes is better, more just or just plain simpler. You gotta love Jesus and you gotta admit he seems to have had a rebellious, anti-establishment bent to his message, a message which he claimed came from God, whom he called Father or Abba.
The eye for an eye thing mentioned is verse 38 is pretty much the way we here in the U.S. operate, as do most countries. Obviously, if a country does something egregious to us or invades our borders we then claim a moral right to retaliate. I get that and I would do the same if someone invaded my space, property or God help them if they hurt my kid. I’m on Mommy Reptilian Brain then, man, let me tell you and it’s not pretty. It is normal for humans to strike back when we are attacked. The whole “he hit me first” mentality has been around for millennia.
In today’s text, the very famous verse 38
“you have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
Well, you know I just don’t want to do that, Jesus, okay? I mean really, how does it help anyone if I do not stick up for myself? Being of scrappy Scots/Irish and German ancestry and as a red blooded American to boot I routinely stick up for myself. So, the question, what is the point of not sticking up for myself and not striking back, is a good and profound question, isn’t it? In many cases, it is probably impossible not to defend ourselves because our brains shift gears when we are threatened or harassed and we go into automatic defense mode. Surely, something that is automatic cannot be taken as a sin, can it? But wait! What if someone has an automatic response, which results in needlessly or senselessly killing someone? That’s not okay, is it? That’s precisely the duality we are dealing with and it isn’t easy to reason, because it isn’t about reason. It’s about the law of action and reaction. It happens, just like when you pull a rubber band on your wrist. When taut, it builds up energy and when you let it go it snaps back (do that) and it doesn’t feel so good. So maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe Jesus is saying look, I know you are probably going to do the eye for an eye things but look at how uncool the world is when you do! Imagine if you didn’t do eye for an eye?
Verse 42 says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Well of course if you gave to everyone, you would be broke and would have nothing left which doesn’t seem like a very smart idea. However, look at what happens if you never or seldom give to those in need. The whole economic system goes upside down and while some get astoundingly wealthier others get ever poorer and poorer. There becomes a huge imbalance of not only finances but of justice for all, which is one of the basic tenets of our Republic. So these are very difficult issues and we are probably not going to solve them all right here on Sunday morning and believe me, I know there are many differences of opinion on these things. We can, however TRY to do better and I would argue that is what is at the foundation of Christianity really - that we try to do better.
The question I ask myself is, how much are we really trying and I must say this is a question I ask myself pretty much every day. Many would argue with me but I feel – (and this is just for myself now, I’m not pointing at anyone else here-) the better off I am, the more obligated by God’s grace and within Jesus’ teachings, I am to do for others. It’s not rocket science and yet, I fear it does not work that way for many who are better and better off every day. “Hey!” you may say, “I (or they) earned what they have and they have a right to keep it all!” That may be true in the law of the jungle but is it true in the eyes of God or through the lessons taught by Jesus? I’m not so sure.
Later in the scripture text Jesus goes,
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
What’s that again? He does? He takes care of the evil or unrighteous as well as he does the good and righteous? Why in the world does God do that? The only answer to that question I can think of is because God is God and that is how God rolls! And always has. Everything is part of God’s creation so you should expect that God would take care of it all, right? “Well, that’s not fair!” Be good to your persecutors, really? How about the saying, “What’s mine is mine!” Maybe so, but not according to this Bible text.
Now look, much smarter people that I have written a ton of stuff about this, so please don’t think I feel I have all the answers, because that would be ridiculous. But if you ask me, in these texts from Matthew we have been reading and studying from the Lectionary I believe Jesus was saying, “Here it is! Here is your golden opportunity to do it right! Here is how God would handle it” and finally he is saying and “all I ask is that you do your best” whatever that is. I have a feeling you know what that is, just like I do and you know when you are and when you’re not doing it. You don’t need me to tell you where the line is or where you are stepping over the border of your own morality and sense of right being. Do you?
Of course there is verse 47
"And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than o
thers? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Which is like the ultimate mic drop. Nobody does it perfect! It’s not a big accomplishment to be kind and generous only to your own kind of people who are relatives and friends. He says anybody can do that. I believe that Jesus is just trying to get us to look at the way we do things and to examine how we could do better in order to bring about a better world. After all is said and done, we are saved not by what good people we are, but by Grace alone. God bestows grace on everybody even the people whom you feel don’t deserve it. God has shown us that we all are deserving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That’s strong Jesus medicine, isn’t it? In other words, we are not asked to do good and to be good in order to garner favor with God or garner a richer more comfortable life as Prosperity Preachers would describe it. It’s just the way to go as a human creature of God’s and we know that because Jesus spells it out in scripture like this today. Jesus loves me this I know, cuz the Bible tells me so.
When the conversation turns to borders or immigrants or refugees this week, stop and think for a minute before you react. Who are we as agents of God in this world? How are we doing and how would we like to become?