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″You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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.”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Take a look at the image above and you will see the dreaded red pen. I am convinced that teachers everywhere take no greater pleasure than in marking papers with notes, corrections, and edits from their red pens. At some point we’ve all submitted a paper at school or a report at work thinking that it was our best work, only to have it returned after being dissected by an overly critical superior. I remember submitting my first paper in seminary, in a philosophy of religion course, thinking that I had aced my assignment. Several days later I received the graded paper back from my professor, my argument torn apart in the comments and a less-than-stellar mark prominently displayed in the margin.
It can be very difficult in school or work when we expect the best out of ourselves only to fall short in the eyes of others. We study hard, we diligently pay attention to the details, we think we have things figured out, and yet it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s expectations or standards. In a grace-filled tradition like United Methodism we can take a deep breath and release a satisfying sigh of relief when we realize that our faith is not like school or work or other arenas in which we can face harsh criticism. But what about Jesus’s words in this passage? Read what he says here in the fifth chapter of Matthew. He does tell us to be perfect.
Perfect?!? Really?!? What could Jesus possibly mean by this statement? How can we be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? Has Jesus been speaking of grace and mercy and compassion, only to pull out his red pen of critique? Is this some kind of trick? A misunderstanding? A mistranslation?
Well, it is not necessarily a mistranslation, but we will understand what Jesus means better if we look at the original Greek. What Jesus says here is that we are to teleios, which is the verb form of telos, which means purpose. We are to fulfill our purpose as our heavenly Father fulfills his divine purpose. Anything that is working toward its created purpose in God’s kingdom is fulfilling its telos. A hammer that drives nails into a wall is fulfilling its telos. When it is used to open a jar of pickles, it is not fulfilling its telos (and will create a big mess!). We understand from Jesus’s later explanation of the law that our purpose is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we would love our own self. This makes perfect sense when we look at what the rest of this passage addresses – the way we respond to enemies.
Several years back I joined the work of our conference Board of Ordained Ministry and I was tasked, along with the rest of the board, with reading the paperwork of those persons who were seeking commissioning and ordination. I had the opportunity then to get out the proverbial red pen. As I read through paperwork and made comments, I realized what the real purpose of that red pen is – correction not for the sake of tearing others down and being overly critical, but correction for the sake of helping them realize and live out their full potential.
So, in a sense, Jesus is getting the red pen out for us when he speaks of our perfection (maybe that is why Bibles use red ink for the words of Jesus?). But Jesus is doing so not to tear us down or to show us how imperfect we are so that we will get discouraged. Jesus is correcting us for the purpose of helping us to realize our God-intended purpose for being so that we might live out the life-giving existence to which God has called us. You are called to be perfect – to live out God’s will for you to love God and love others (and to love yourself, by the way). Anything else must be marked out by the red pen of sanctifying grace.
- Tuesday, February 14 – 2 Kings 2
- Wednesday, February 15 – 2 Kings 3
- Thursday, February 16 – 2 Kings 4
- Friday, February 17 – 2 Kings 5
- Saturday, February 18 – 2 Kings 6
- Sunday, February 19 – 2 Kings 7
- Monday, February 20 – 2 Kings 8
Prayer Focus: But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
There are just some passages I wish we could escape, ignore, or just throw out of the Bible! This is one of those passages. But our hesitancy and discomfort in these situations demonstrate how important it is that we attend to what God is calling us to in these words of Christ. If let to ourselves, we would not love those who are difficult to love or who defiantly oppose us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, however, and with these words to guide us we can learn to pray for even the most oppositional, hurtful, hateful person we know. I want you to picture that person, whoever it is in your life. Pray for them. Ask God to dwell with them in peace and grace. Trust God to open their heart to his love and mercy. Ask God to protect them and to show that person favor. Pray for them until you can no longer despise them because your heart breaks for them, pouring out nothing but love.
Meditation Focus: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.
These are not just fancy, naive, idealistic words spoken by Jesus. At the crucifixion he truly lived them out. He was struck by the Roman soldiers and he did not strike back. He had his clothing taken from him and did not demand its return. He carried the load of the cross, the load of all of our sins, for us. It can be done, by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us as the Spirit dwelt within Christ.
Imagine an experience in which you were wronged. Perhaps you did not respond how Jesus advises us to respond. Perhaps you struck back or lashed out. Put yourself back in that situation within your mind, even if it is at first difficult. Now picture Christ Jesus beside you – the resurrected Christ who bears the scars of the injustice done to him at the cross. Now watch as the person who wronged you faces you, goading you into retaliation. Reach out and hold the hand of Jesus. Feel the deep wound in his hand. Allow all of the pain, humiliation, hurt, and sorrow that flows into you from this adversary you face to then flow out of you and into Jesus. Allow him to carry and defeat that injury and injustice. Do not strike back. Do not lash out. Let Jesus heal you even as your adversary experiences the burden of his or her own bitterness and anger.
Turn to Jesus and ask him to heal your adversary too. Then, in the power Jesus gives you, turn and walk away – renewed and empowered. Trust Jesus with your adversary. You are not in control of or responsible for their reaction. You have been made free and you can now rejoice in the freedom of others – even the freedom of those who have hurt you.
Journaling Focus: Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
How have you experienced the joy of giving? Write about a time in which you spotted a need or were asked for assistance and you responded by giving of your time, resources, or energy. How were you made aware of the need? How did you respond? Did anyone know or did you respond anonymously? How did it feel to give of yourself? Then, ponder ways in which you might increase the giving of yourself to others in need. Finish these four opened ended questions and discover new ways to give:
- I can give of my time, resources, and energy to my family by…
- I can give of my time, resources, and energy to my church by…
- I can give of my time, resources, and energy to my community by…
- I can give of my time, resources, and energy to our world by…
Breath Prayer: Father, perfect us in your love.