Often, we Christians draw a line in sand around political issues we mistake for biblical issues. Abortion, homosexuality, gun control, Muslims, Israel. Certainly we can find isolated Bible verses that support our position; we quote them often enough. I admit I have.
But I’m here to tell you I’m a red-letter kind of gal. And when I want Truth, I go back to those red letters in my Bible time and time again. And as I reread them and ask the Spirit for clarity to understand them, I continue to see, over and over, the three lines in the sand Jesus drew.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”(Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:27)
As we continue to vilify all who are not like us, treat “them” like groups who need to be condemned, isolated, in some cases obliterated, we act in fear. But Jesus calls us to act in love. He calls us to pray for enemies, whoever we might consider to be a foe, whether a rival, assailant, detractor, terrorist or sinner. We are called to be more than our basest instincts chain us to be.
“I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me into your homes. I needed clothes, and you didn’t give me anything to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t take care of me. They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or as a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison and didn’t help you?’ ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.”(Matthew 25:42-45)
Exactly how many starving immigrants do we have to deny from our warm, spacious homes? How many millions of refugees fleeing for their lives will continue to wander in deserts, in oceans with no opportunity for safety? How many hundreds of thousands of children will have to die before we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts from fear to love?
“So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.” (John 13:34-35)
How can we say we love Jesus if we turn our backs on His words? How we can we say we follow Him if we refuse to stand with Him? Peter denied Jesus three times, but that was before he knew what we know. Before the Holy Spirit took up residence in him. Before Jesus allowed him to declare his love three times face to face to repent of those denials.
We need to stop condemning, stop finger-pointing and extend the same loving, grace-filled invitation Jesus extended to Levi the tax collector. And break bread at the same table.
In the face of those lines in the sand, will we continue to deny Jesus three times over and over knowing what we know?
This is how most people think of retaliation: heroes seeking and serving justice.
The dictionary defines retaliation as the act of returning like for like, especially evil for evil; an eye for an eye.
Synonyms for retaliation are revenge, backlash, resentment, entitlement, and retribution.
Justice is defined as something quite different. Justice is the quality of being just of ground or reason as manifested in conduct, dealing or treatment.
Synonyms for justice are due process, integrity, impartiality and fair-mindedness.
Jesus said this concerning retaliation:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to oppose an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well. If someone wants to sue you in order to take your shirt, let him have your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
Yet that’s exactly what we do: we turn away. And in that turning away, we remain stubborn, grit our teeth determined to hold onto hurt and fear, anger and bitterness. And I’m not even talking about abuse or heinous crimes here. (Although we are called to love those enemies, too!)
Think of all the neighbors, friends or family members we’ve kept at arm’s length because we’ve refused to be peacemakers, refused to be the ones to back down, decided being right is more important than offering a hand of peace, grace and love.
In first century Rome, a soldier could order anyone to carry his gear for a mile. Jesus uses a real life example to urge his followers to have a mindset of servants, not slaves. He is saying, in essence, “Don’t grumble about being forced to walk a mile with a Roman soldier – someone whose government occupies your land. Instead, be pleased to serve, and offer to walk an extra mile instead.”
It all comes down to a single choice. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Deciding, allowing the Spirit to work through us to change our minds and hearts. And, oh, how God could heal us if we let Him.
“Some might suggest that this is a recipe for Christians to be doormats, but I see this as something quite different. I see this as Christians being called to great strength, for through all of this, we are called to rely not on our own ability to strike back, but upon the inner strength of God to overcome evil with good; this is the way of love.” Don Merritt, The Life Project
I also see it as something different. When we do what Jesus asks, the Spirit delivers a different mindset. He transforms us. He takes us out of the victim role and places us squarely in the role of overcomers: ones who have strength, peace of mind, stability and self-control. We become the ones who choose to offer integrity and fair-mindedness. We become the ones who extend God’s hand of peace, grace, love and forgiveness.
When we live from a place of love instead of anger or fear, we make a choice to serve. We make a choice to go an extra mile because it’s a natural part of living our lives. We don’t have to mull over a request. We automatically say, “Of course,” and follow through joyfully to the fullest.
“I have loved you the same way the Father has loved me. So live in My love. If you obey My commandments, you will live in My love. I have obeyed My Father’s commandments, and in that way I live in His love. I have told you this so that you will be as joyful as I am, and your joy will be complete. (John 15:9-11)