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Getting Even Through Love

February 20th 2011 by Joel Schultz

We continue our meditation on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. This morning Jesus again raises the bar of the law as He talks about revenge an hatred. Although the idea of evening the score and holding grudges and even hatred come easily to our sinful nature, Jesus empowers His people to love others just as our heavenly Father loves us.

Epiphany 7A – “Getting Even Through Love” – Matthew 5:38-48 – February 20, 2011

Today’s text is a continuation of last week’s text from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last week Jesus used the examples of the 5th, 6th, and 8th commandments to raise the bar of the Law of God, especially to show how much we truly need a Savior. Today He continues to reveal the true meaning of the Law as He tackles the current interpretation of seeking revenge and hating one’s enemies.

“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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles’. . . . 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” (vv 38–41, 43–44).

Revenge and hatred are ever the character of our sinful human nature. We’ve all done them before, and we know how good they can feel. Sadly, revenge and hatred come to us all too naturally, don’t they? We want to get even with those who wrong us – the rude driver, the bully at school, the cheating spouse, the back stabbing co-worker, the church member you disagree with, the person who didn’t care for you in the right way or at the right time - - - go ahead and fill in the person and the situation, we have all had them or are perhaps dealing with them right now.

And the getting even part… well, it is sometimes actually acted out physically against the offender. Other times it may be acted out simply by holding a grudge, or talking badly about the offender behind his back, or ignoring the offender, or treating the person with outward contempt and scorn. Hearts filled with anything but love.

We could go on, but what would be the point? You know where you have failed to love and forgive. You know the people with whom you need to restore a relationship. All of our plotting—sometimes calculated, oftentimes instantaneous—meets its end in our Lord’s arresting statement, “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (v 44). Again, Jesus raises the bar of the Law and we see how greatly we fall short of the love He desires in our lives toward all people.

But, what an unbelievable contrast with the fatherly heart that God has shown to us. His heart beats with love for children who have chosen love of self over love for one’s neighbor. Indeed, it is only by grace that we can be called His children, since we have wandered so far from Him and rejected Him at every turn.

At all those times, did God turn His back on us? Absolutely not. Though we were enemies of God, He paid the ultimate price for us through the death of His Son. There, on the cross, the guiltless one died for the guilty. When His accusers hurled their charges at Him, He did not respond in self-defense. When they struck Him, he didn’t strike back. Instead, He prayed for His enemies: “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34). Though He could have come down from the cross at any time, He did not, but bore our guilt and shame to the end. As we are faced with God’s Law, and we hear Jesus say “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v 48) we turn to Jesus, the guiltless one, and recognize that God has found favor in Him, in His perfect sacrifice in our place? That is where our perfection lies—not in striving to achieve our own moral perfection, but in rejoicing that Jesus is not only the man who fights for us but also the one who now lives and reigns in our lives.

In Christ, we can turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge against those who wrong us. In Christ, we can seek to go the extra mile to love those we have trouble dealing with at home, work, school or church. In Christ, we can speak well of even those with whom we disagree. In Christ, we can let go of grudges and contempt and scorn.

Yesu is a native, Christian missionary in India. His father had started a mission in a Hindu-dominated area. One day a Hindu leader came to Yesu’s father and asked for prayer. Eager to pray with him, hoping it would lead him to Christ; he took the man into a private room, knelt down with him, closed his eyes and began to pray.

While he was praying, the Hindu man reached into his robe, pulled out a knife and stabbed him repeatedly. Yesu, hearing his father’s screams, ran to help him. He held him in his arms as blood poured out onto the floor of the hut. Three days later, his father died. On his deathbed he said to his son, “Please tell that man that he is forgiven. Care for your mother and carry on this ministry. Do whatever it takes to win people to Christ.”

Having been united to Christ in His death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, we can love one another, even our enemies. Feasting on Christ’s death-destroying body and life-giving blood in the Holy Supper, we receive a foretaste of the eternal perfection that will be ours, for already now Christ dwells in us and we in Him.

That truly does make a difference in the way we relate to one another. Instead of revenge, in whatever form it may take, we pray for our persecutors, for our enemies, even for those who rub us the wrong way. Rather than getting even with those who have wronged us, we love one another, even as God in Christ loved us.

In Christ, the only getting even we do is getting even through love. Our Lord has not promised that such selfless love will come easily. But when we remain in Christ and receive the fruits of His selfless love for us, then we can show that love to those around us.

Comments

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