Series: What Did He Say?
Today: A Call to Rethink Conventional Wisdom
Rev. Laura Brewster
Introduction. The book of Matthew records five of Jesus’ speeches. The first speech is known as The Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5:7, and it is Jesus’ longest uninterrupted speech in the book of Matthew. Today we will focus on one small portion — that dealing with how to respond to those who wrong us. Read Matthew 5:38-48.
Jesus Calls Us to Rethink Conventional Wisdom
What Jesus taught is contrary to conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says, “If someone hits you, hit them back harder.” Jesus calls for us to renounce our right to retaliation. In lieu of retaliation, we are called to show love! Jesus offered concrete examples. He said, suppose someone takes you to court and sues you and wants to take your coat as compensation for something you allegedly did to harm them. Don’t just give them your coat; give them your cloak too. The coat, by the way, was an undergarment, and the cloak was a tunic-like outer garment. If someone gave away both coat and cloak, that person would be left nude. Knowing this, we can assume that Jesus may not have meant these words to be taken literally. However, he wanted them to be taken seriously. He wants his followers – including us – to be willing to renounce a right to revenge and respond with love instead. Why? Jesus says do this “so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” In other words, do this so you can be the type of children who reflect the loving and forgiving nature of God.
How to Love Unlovable People
As Christians, we want to be obedient to Jesus’ commands. But this is a tough one. How do we love someone who spreads gossip about us or betrays us? How does a Democrat love a Republican or vice versa? How does a traditionalist love a progressive and vice versa? Jesus suggests that the answer to that question is prayer. Jesus says, “pray for those who harass you!” Presumably, that means more than praying for God to step in and change the attitude and behavior of our enemies. Our prayers must also include a petition for God to help us see our enemies through his eyes. Our prayers must include a petition for God to help us love our enemies as he does.
Loving people who hurt us does not mean agreeing with all they do or excusing what they do. It does not mean turning into a doormat for people who perpetrate evil. Being loving people and forgiving people does mean letting go of our right to take revenge, refusing to stay mired in resentment and anger, praying that our enemies eventually get into right relationship with God, and moving on.
Jesus didn’t just repeat Jewish law, he radicalized it. In doing so he taught us a new way to respond to those who wound us in life. He taught us to move from embitterment to embodiment of the kingdom of God. Why? Because we are children of the God of Love, and as such, we want to live like that.