Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Love your enemies

The words in Matthew 5:44 from Jesus are pretty straight-forward.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Not to mention Proverbs 25:21

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

And then there's the stretch of Luke that just beats you on the head with the "love your enemies" stuff.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

I would be lying if I said that i follow these verses every moment of my life. It's almost impossible isn't it? The reason people would be classified as an enemy, or at least a royal pain in the behind, is that whether intentionally or not, they are making your life unpleasant. Who wants that? If the cause of  my unhappiness is clearly identifiable, it's a natural reaction to get angry at that cause.

And what of the verse of Matthew 5:39
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also
On the face of it, this one seems to invite you to be a masochist. "Thank you sir, may i have another" whack just does not sound attractive.

Well, turning the other cheek does not necessarily mean taking pain endlessly. These passages to me are more about how we react, how we respond. Surely we have to protect ourselves and defend against violence and violation.

No, to me these passages are about responding in a surprising, unexpected way full of grace and love. Rather than returning assault and insult to assault and insult, we pray for those who offend, love them, offer ways to help and heal them. If forgiveness is central to healing and love, then we can't get to that healing and love without forgiving those who harm us.

These verses were all over my mind this week as I watched the situation in Kentucky where elected county clerk Kim Davis refused to grant marriage licenses to anyone. This she did despite directives from the District Court and from failing on appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court.

My reaction to the avowed "Christian persecution" stance is probably predictable. I'm a Christian and I don't feel persecuted by the change in law. I would feel persecuted in that county, however, if the elected official refused to perform their duties to uphold the Constitution and laws of our country. And a good number of people around the country, as Facebook and Twitter seem to show, were offended by this position.

On the opposite side of the coin, presidential candidates on the right were quick to fall over themselves to support the clerk's right to freedom of religion. The politicization and rhetoric hit the fan in ways where everyone was getting dirty.

And people got dirty. There were many photos of the clerk in the unflattering fluorescent light, as if even Beyonce or George Clooney could look good in county office lighting. People used derogatory, inflammatory, and misogynistic barbs out of their anger at this person. They aired her personal dirty laundry that, admittedly, showed signs of hypocrisy. They made mean-spirited memes that were completely unrelated to what was happening.

And, in their anger, they persecuted and returned hate and venom.

I didn't laugh at any of those remarks. I saw where they came from. They arose out of anger and a feeling of continued persecution. But they attacked a person rather than the elected official. They attacked looks rather than actions. They didn't turn the other cheek.

OK I'll admit freely that I got a great laugh out of the many tweets from a Twitter user @nexttokimdavis who pretended to be a co-worker complaining about sitting in the office next to the clerk. But what I laughed at was not the personal stuff. I enjoyed the common griping that comes when you're trying to do your job and someone else at the office makes things unnecessarily dramatic, the crassness of the media, and the hysteria of the many protesters from both sides. Thankfully, there were only sparing jokes about personal issues.

Is laughing at your enemy loving? I love to laugh. I love to find humor in sad situations. I use humor to sustain me as an optimist. But i think that personal attacks may bring a snicker or laugh and yet in the end leave you without any cathartic satisfaction. I laugh at the circumstance, at our folly, at the system that tricks people into unjust actions because it's more motivating than crying. I try to not laugh at someone's personal expense. I do, but it flies in the face of things that matter to me.

Like loving those who persecute us.

May we all learn how to be loving with each other. We may never agree on certain issues, but the sun rises for all of us, the rain falls on us all, and the rainbow glitters in all of our eyes.

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