Has anyone else found these last few sermons annoying? I sure have.
So, People are doing everything they’re supposed to do–attending worship, making sacrifices, fasting…They’re following the religious rules faithfully, when some prophetscome along and tell themthat going through the motions isn’t enough. Micah says, “What does God require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?” Isaiah says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?” Jesus says to refrain from insulting people; to reconcile with our brothers and sisters before we worship.
If living faithfully is about following the rules, about checking things off a list, it’s easy to know when you’ve been faithful. Attend worship? Check. Offer financial gifts? Check. Serve on a committee? Check. Read your Bible every day? Check.
But the prophets don’t seeminterested in a spiritual scorecard; what they care about is right relationship. Do justice. Love kindness. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Tend to your relationships. Checking things off a list—that’s easy. Thinking about what we’re doing, especially about how what we do impacts others? Measuring our righteousness in terms of relationship, in terms of acting others into well-being? That is annoying.
But we haven’t seen anything yet. Today’s gospel lesson increases the annoyance factor by 10. It’s so annoying, in fact, that we’re not even dealing with part of it, all that “turn the other cheek” business. We’ll deal with that someday—I promise. Trust me–the rest of today’s Gospel lesson is plenty annoying for a single sermon.
Because today, Jesus gets specific about who precisely we are to act into well-being. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Loving your neighbor is hard enough…but Jesus—as he is want to do—goes on. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you (prepared to be annoyed): ‘Love your enemy.”
Really? Love your enemy? Why not ignore your enemy…or abide your enemy…or, Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do to your enemy?Why “Love your enemy?”
The question becomes even more pointed when you consider the context in which Jesus’ hearers lived. Jesus’ words were addressed to first century Jews—people suffering under oppressive Roman rule. In thepart of the passage we skipped, it mentions “forcing you to go a mile”—Roman soldiers could do that. And when Jesus says to “pray for those who persecute you,” he means itliterally. The people he taught were really being persecuted…
….which makes this “love your enemies” business all the more puzzling. Why would Jesus tell poor, persecuted, and oppressed people to turn the other cheek, to pray for their persecutors, to love—that is, to act into well-being—their enemies?
On the face of it, it’s easy to see how the powerfuldehumanize the powerless. What isn’t as obvious is how dehumanizing dehumanization is. By that I mean that when we see or treat others as less-than-human, it makes us less-than-human, too…Because a key trait— the key trait–of human being is being humane, right?If we aren’t humane, then we’re not quite human.
So, when Jesus tells this group of oppressed people to act their enemies into well-being, he’s asking them to see their oppressors as human beings; he’s inviting them to help heal their persecutors of their inhumanity. The cycle of violence and hatred has to end somewhere, right? As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
In the end, we all are God’s children; we’re all human beings created in the image of God; we’re all equally capable of both beauty and evil. Until we realize that our humanity is bound up with the humanity of others—all others– we really haven’t gotten the God-thing, Jesus is saying. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” The world won’t change until we do more than is expected of us. Oppression won’t end, God’s kin-dom won’t come until every person–every person–is seen and treated as a human being, full of dignity. The way to live faithfully, the way to true righteousness, the way to please God is to act everyone into well-being–evenour enemies.
Izzeldin Abuelaisha is a doctor who once lived in Gaza and worked at a hospital in Tel Aviv. If you’ve never read about the lives of Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza, I encourage you to do so. Simply getting in and out of Gaza can be an arduous process. As Izzeldin says: “Traveling has become such a miserable experience that no Palestinian does it, except those who absolutely have to,” (158). Because of the strict rules—and arbitrary closures of the borders with Egypt and Israel– basic supplies often are wanting in Gaza. There is a hospital in Gaza, but it provides only basic care. People with medical complications have to be taken to an Israeli hospital…which works, if you’re able to get a pass into Israel.
Life for Gazans is difficult. Even so, Izzeldin has long been an advocate for the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians. Working in an Israeli hospital was a way to live out his belief in the possibility–andnecessity— of living together in peace.
Which is why what happened on January 16, 2009, was so tragic. In September 2008, Izzeldin’s beloved wife Nadia had died of acute leukemia, leaving him and his 8 children grieving and trying to pick up the pieces. He applied to hospitals around the globe; he wanted to get his children out of the powder keg of Gaza. In early January, a teaching hospital in Toronto invited Izzeldin to join their staff.
You might recall that in 2008, the Palestinian group Hamas became the governing power for Palestinians. As you might imagine, Hamas’ rise put Israel on full alert…especially since Hamas had been shooting missiles into Israel from Gaza for years.
In retaliation—and perhaps as a show of power to Hamas—on December 27, Israel began a military assault on Gaza. The siege lasted 23 days. Twenty three days of bombs, helicopters, tanksdecimating home after home after home. Twenty three days with ten people crowded into Izzeldin’s apartment. (One of Izzeldin’s daughters was at her aunt’s house when the shelling began; other extended family members had gotten caught at Izzeldin’s home.) During the shelling, they had no electricity, no gas, no way to buy food or supplies. It was a time of terror.
Terror turned to tragedy on the 21st day of the siege, January 16, 2009. Three of Izzeldin’s daughters, Shatha, Mayar and Aya, along with their cousin Noor were in the girl’s bedroom. Izzeldin and the rest of the family were in the dining room when they heard and felt the explosion. It came from the girls’ bedroom. Izzeldin went to check on the girls. Mayar, Aya, and Noor were dead. Shatha was gravely wounded. The shelling continued. Another daughter, Bessan, was killed in the follow-up shelling.
The assault on Izzeldin’s house was a mistake, a tragic error, an error with inconceivable consequences. It would be hard to blame someone in Izzeldin’s circumstances for becoming bitter. Miraculously, he has not.
The title of thebook describing his harrowing experience is telling: I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity.In this season of Epiphany—what we Christians call the season of light—Izzeldin’s response to the tragedy is especially apt.
“From the moment we got home—with smashed buildings, collapsed bridges, and rubble all around us—I realized I had two options: I could take the path of darkness [hatred and revenge] or the path of light [the future and my surviving children],” (193).
“My three precious daughters and my niece are dead. Revenge … won’t get them back for me. It is important to feel anger in the wake of events like this; anger that signals that you do not accept what has happened, that spurs you to make a difference. But you have to choose not to spiral into hate. All the desire for revenge and hatred does is drive away wisdom, increase sorrow, and prolong strife. The potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad is that together we might bridge the factious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.
“This catastrophe of the deaths of my daughters and niece has strengthened my thinking, deepened my belief about how to bridge the divide…There’s only one way to [do it]: “we have to find the light to guide us to our goal. I’m not talking about the light of religious faith here, but light as a symbol of truth. The light that allows you to see, to clear away the fog—to find wisdom. To find the light of truth, you have to talk to, listen to, and respect each other. Instead of wasting energy on hatred, use it to open your eyes and see what’s really going on. Surely, if we can see the truth, we can live side by side.” (196)
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemy.’” Annoying? Perhaps. Necessary to building God’s kin-dom? Afraid so. Thank goodness we have people like our Muslim brother Izzeldin Abuelaish to show us the way.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014
Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)
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38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. <!– 43 –>
Love for Enemies
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.