Sermon Title: “The Call and Courage to Love When It Hurts “
Date: Sunday, January 13, 2019
Text: Matthew 5:38-42
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Love has a name; its name is Jesus. In the Gospels and Epistles, love is a command, an attitude, and a lifestyle that is distinctively marked the daily interactions and relationships of Jesus’s followers. In fact, in Christianity, love has a nature and an identity, and arguably is a person, as the Bible boldly declares, “God is love.” Love as a divine virtue and moral and ethical virtue comes with many challenges, defeats, and disappointments. In spite of the complexity to love difficult people, as love is not a natural human virtue, love is the very essence of the Christian faith and the cross of Christ. Jesus commands his disciples to love their enemies and pray to those who persecute them. Because of love, he summons love not to seek personal vengeance and retribution. Apostle Paul states to do everything in love. The Hebrew Prophets compel us to pursue love, mercy and compassion as these threefold divine attributes summarize the greatness of God and God’s loving actions in the world and gracious interactions with human beings. Hence, God’s creation ought to imitate its Creator by being like Him. Those who love unconditionally and pursue love relentlessly are like God. Love avoids the action and attitude of retribution, vengeance, aggression, and so on.
This morning, I would like to share with you a few words about the biblical notion of love as a Christian virtue and moral order for Jesus’s disciples. I also want to talk about Jesus’s call to his followers to live a nonviolent and peaceful life to external forces that might oppress them and even cause them great pain and difficulty. The call to love and forgive, even one’s enemies and rivals, is the way of Christ and is the most fulfilling way to imitate God and to become like Jesus. We will use Matthew 5:38-42 as our main text and will allude to other relating texts on love. May God grant us the grace and strength to love like Christ and to resist personal vengeance and retribution like Jesus.
- The Old Testament Context: Three Key Texts
- Exodus 21: 24, 22-24
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
- Leviticus 24:19-20
19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. “
- Deuteronomy 19:21, 16-21
16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil[a] from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
- Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42
Against Violence and Retaliation: Jesus provides three illustrations or examples on the principle of nonresistance; in other words, he is telling his followers should resist violence and not to forego retaliation and personal vengeance:
- “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v.39): when the disciple is personally insulted.
- “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v.40): when the disciple is taken to court.
- “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v.41): when the disciple is asked to do what is beyond human reason.
- “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (v.42): when one in need is asked for help
The point of this passage pertains to what moral and ethical virtues should characterize the life of Jesus’ followers. The passage is also a clarion call on how to live biblically and responsibly in society. First of all, Jesus commends his followers to avoid retribution and resistance. Second, he challenges the natural and human desire for personal vindication. Third, he calls his followers to live an alternate lifestyle and seek higher standards than what is provided in society. Fourth, Jesus warns his disciples the ethics and ways of this world contradicts the ethic and way of the Kingdom of God. Fifth, Jesus instructs his followers that God is the ultimate Vindicator and to allow him to vindicate their cause. Sixth, for Jesus, his disciples should not seek self-interest nor to preserve their honor, social status or privileges; rather, their honor, dignity, and identity are in Him and that they should live a life that prioritizes the interests and welfare of other people. Jesus summons his disciples to go beyond how love is defined in their society, that is for his disciples to love those who oppress them and to seek peace with them (v.41). Finally, Jesus teaches his disciples to be generous and cheerful givers (v.42). Jesus This is the way of Jesus, the way of love, and the ultimate way of the Kingdom of God,
R.T. France makes the following helpful and insightful observation regarding this passage:
Here more than anywhere in this section we need to remind ourselves that Jesus’ aim is not to establish a new and more demanding set of rules to supplant those of the scribes and Pharisees. It is to establish a “greater righteousness,” a different understanding of how we should live as the people of God, an alternative set of values. In place of the principle of retribution he sets nonresistance; in place of legal rights he sets uncalculating generosity; in place of concern for oneself he sets concern for the other.” (France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 218)
In this passage, Jesus promotes nonviolent resistance to his disciples and to the new community he attempts to create. These are peaceful and nonresistant principles that undergird the kingdom of God, which contradicts the kingdom of this world. As Dale Allison rightly remarks:
“ If he speaks of eschewing violence and not resisting evil, of being slapped, of having one’s clothes taken, and of being compelled to serve the Romans, the conclusion to his own life makes his words concrete: he eschews violence (26:51-54); he does not resist evil (26:36-56; 27:12-14); he is struck (26:67); he has his garments taken (27:28, 35); and his cross is carried by one requisitioned by Roman order (27: 32)” (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 21)
- 38, “An eye for eye, tooth for tooth”: The Jews of Jesus’ day have misinterpreted this verse by misusing to seek personal vengeance and justify individual retaliation. Jesus forbids individual retribution based on this principle. God had intended this law to be “a judicial guideline, not a license to get one’s own back” (France, p.218)
- 39, in this verse not only Jesus opposes retaliation, he forbids resistance; yet some people would then ask what kind of resistance is Jesus against? Is he against active or passive resistance, or is he against violent and nonviolent resistance, or does he outlaw legal and illegal resistance?
- 42, the point Jesus is making here is this in the new community he is establishing, that is the kingdom of God, his disciples and Christians must learn that “In the kingdom of heaven self interest does not rule, and even our legal rights and legitimate expectations may have to give away to the interests of others. It is for each disciple to work out for themselves how this principle can most responsibly be applied to the issue of giving and lending in the different personal and social circumstances in which we find ourselves” (France, pp. 222-3)
II. Jesus as the Moral Model of non-violent and peaceful resistance:
There are at least five examples (to love your enemies) in the life of Jesus that teach us on how to resist vengeance and violence, but rather to promote peace, love, and reconciliation. Matthew in his Gospel Chapter 5: verses 38-42 record some tough and challenging words coming from the lips of Jesus to his disciples. The ultimate goal of Jesus was to teach his disciples about how to love courageously, dangerously, and sacrificially like himself. In the same manner, Jesus has called us today to live a life of radical love, to pursue relationships that are consistent with God’s peaceful and loving character. Jesus is the Moral Example for us today. The examples we are going to examine are all from the Gospel of Matthey; they all pertain to Jesus’ way to the cross including his trial before Pontius Pilate, his arrest by the Roman soldiers, and his ultimate death on the Roman-redemptive cross:
- He eschews violence (26:51-54): v. 38
- He does not resist evil (26:36-56; 27:12-14): v.39
- He is struck (26:67) and spat upon: v. 39
- He has his garments taken (27:28, 35): v. 40
- His cross is carried by one requisitioned by Roman order (27: 32): v.41
- Matthew 26:51-54: Jesus rejects violence and vengeance
51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
- Matthew 26:36-56: Jesus does not evil, but embraces divine suffering and God’s will for his life
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
- Matthew 27:12-14: Jesus avoids self-defense
12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
- Matthew 26:67: Jesus does not strike back and accepts the human humiliation and shame imputed on him
“Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him”
- Matthew 27:28, 35: Jesus practices nonviolent resistance
“And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.”
- Matthew 27: 32: he humbly submits himself to the authority to carry the cross of violence and shame, but of our redemption and salvation, and that which gives us peace and reconciles with God.
“As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.”
Through these various examples cited above, Jesus teaches us how to live christocentrically (that is a life that is centered on Jesus’ s way, values, and ethic) and godly in this world. To live biblically and christocentrically (to seek to honor and glorify Jesus Christ in all things—in thought and in action) in a society characterized by violence, aggression, and vengeance is to live dangerously and radically and in humility before the face of a loving and gracious God.
By consequence, what should then be the proper Christian response to a violent world? What are the biblical principles of retaliation and vengeance?
Simply, we need to follow Jesus and to pattern our life, behavior, attitude, character, and interaction after his.
- The Proper Christian Action in a Violent World
What should be the Christian response toward violence and retribution? What can we learn from the Hebrew Scriptures?
On Biblical Principles of Retaliation and Vengeance:
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- Proverbs 20:22
“Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
- Proverbs 24:29
“Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me;
I will pay the man back for what he has done.”
- Proverbs 25:21-22
“21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
God on Vengeance and Retribution
Deuteronomy 32: 35, 35-36
“Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.’
36 For the Lord will vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
and there is none remaining, bond or free.
- Isaiah 50:6-9, the words of the suffering Servant-Messiah (Jesus)
“6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Seven biblical principles about revenge and retaliation, and peace and love:
- Revenge is not the Jesus’s way, and retaliation is the anti-thesis of the Gospel of love and grace.
- Followers of Jesus are called to be peacemakers, not peacebreakers, (Matthew 5:9): “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
- The proper attribute of Christians (Christ-like) is to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)
- Do not initiate revengeful acts, refrain from retribution at all cost: Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
- The moral responsibility of Jesus’ disciples is to love and forgive, and not to retaliate (Luke 6:27–31). The way of Jesus is forgiveness and reconciliation.
- We are called to treat our enemies with kindness and compassion: “To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:20).
- Christians should resist vengeance at all cost: “For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people” (Hebrews 10:31)
III. What lessons can we learn from Dr. Martin Luther King about nonviolence and retaliation
Quote on Love: “Love is the only thing that can turn an enemy into a friend”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist Pastor, Christian theologian, public intellectual, Civil rights activist, and a Human Rights advocate, was formally trained respectively in the sphere of American Christian education and American liberal education. King studied Sociology at Morehouse College and graduated in 1948. Further, he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary, and obtained a Doctoral degree in Systematic Theology at Boston University, in 1955.
Foremost, every third Monday of January in the American society, both Christians and non-Christians acknowledge the manifold historic contributions of Dr. King to national conversations surrounding racial equality and justice, segregation, equal and fair employment for all Americans, voting rights for all Americans, and anti-black racism in the American society. For many Americans, both Christians and non-Christians, theists and non-theists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is/was an American hero and icon of our shared American ideals and values. This Federal Holiday designated in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often brings Americans together to engage actively in serious conversations, at both regional and national level, about the faults of our country and the possibility of national renewal and unity, and collective progress and shalom.
Second, Americans who have identified themselves as freedom fighters in respect to the country’s mistreatment of black and brown people and American imperialism in the world, often find inspiration in the liberating words and activism of King, which compel them to collaborate in human rights issues and work together toward human flourishing and the common good. For example, when discussing and celebrating the legacy of King in American classrooms, both little American boys and girls would raise their hands and say, “My favorite American hero is Dr. King,” or they would exclaim, “When I grow up, I want to be like Dr. King.”
Third, not only the liberative rhetoric and protest of King has changed the American civil and political society, King’s activism has left an indelible mark on the American conscience. In contemporary American society, King’s oeuvre continues to inspire all of us toward radical national change, and revolutionary national progress and unity. In addition, for many Human Rights activists around the world and beyond the American landscape, King is considered as the antithesis of all forces of human oppression, abuse, neocolonialism, and human domination; he is also their symbol of the “Beloved Community” and their icon of human cosmopolitanism, brotherhood, and justice.
Source: “The Weapon of Love: How Martin Luther King, Jr. Became Nonviolent “ by Stanley Hauerwas/ Monday 16 January 2017 12:22pm
IV. King’s “Philosophy” of Nonviolence
In a book entitled Stride Toward Freedom , published in 1957, Dr. King outlines six points associating with his philosophy of nonviolence and active love:
- “that advocates of nonviolence do not want to humiliate those they oppose;
- that the battle is against forces of evil, not individuals;
- that nonviolence requires the willingness to suffer;
- that love is central to nonviolence; and
- that the universe is on the side of justice.”
- He acknowledges the substantial influence of the words of Jesus communicate through the Sermon on the Mount on his life and his nonviolent movement (from an article entitled “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” published in 1960, in The Christian Century).
“driven back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. This principle became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method. The experience of Montgomery did more to clarify my thinking on the question of nonviolence than all of the books I had read. As the days unfolded I became more and more convinced of the power of nonviolence. Living through the actual experience of the protest, nonviolence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life. Many issues I had not cleared up intellectually concerning nonviolence were now solved in the sphere of practical action.”
“It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than the doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action. It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negro to protest with the creative weapon of love. As the days unfolded, however, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence. I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in is struggle for freedom.”
- He emphasizes the redemptive power of cross of Christ as the hope for the American society and the restoration of our broken world and the recreation of a new world:
Stanley Hauerwas remarks,
“For King, however, it is the cross that is “the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is the symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation.”
Stanley continues by accentuating the power of redemptive love and forgiveness that we Christians need to cultivate in this violent world toward redemption, peace, and reconciliation:
“Love, therefore, becomes the hallmark of nonviolent resistance requiring that the resister not only refuse to shoot his opponent but also refuse to hate him. Nonviolent resistance is meant to bring an end to hate by being the very embodiment of agape. King seemed never to tire of an appeal to Anders Nygren’s distinction between eros, phila and agape to make the point that the love that shapes nonviolent resistance is one that is disciplined by the refusal to distinguish between worthy and unworthy people. Rather agape begins by loving others for their own sake, which requires that we “have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution.”
Such a love means that nonviolent resistance seeks not to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win a friend. The protests that may take the form of boycotts and other non-cooperative modes of behavior are not ends in themselves, but rather attempts to awaken in the opponent a sense of shame and repentance. The end of nonviolent resistance is redemption and reconciliation with those who have been the oppressor. Love overwhelms hate, making possible the creation of a beloved community that would otherwise be impossible.”
Four Words about Forgiveness, Grace, Embrace, Peace-Making, and Reconciliation
- Forgiveness is a spiritual practice and liberative action. If you’re having a hard time forgiving someone who has hurt you or someone you care about, perhaps you need to work on this area of your spiritual journey with God and with the one who has offended you.
- Forgiveness is about peace-making; like forgiveness, peace-making is a process that in its early phase may result in alienation, loneliness, disappointment, exclusion, and even pain. Nonetheless, healing may call us to endure pain and suffering, and resist the easy way out.
- The “vindictive spirit” rejects the cathartic power of forgiveness and peace-making. The “retaliation impulse” says I don’t need forgiveness–the one who has wronged me needs it. The “self-justification tendency” resists the spirit of inclusion and embrace in the various phases of forgiveness and in the process of forgiving one another.
- Forgiveness is a radical call to die to oneself and one’s ego in order that one may reconcile with oneself (what we may call “self-care”) and with the guilty party toward a better and more beautiful community. It has called us to reconnect, to dream again, to reconcile, and to love again.
***If we’re serious about improving race relations and racial unity in this society and churches, we have to be open to the possibility of forgiveness and of redemption; resentment will often delay forgiveness and reconciliation. It is crucial we allow space for the guilty party to mourn and repent of the wrongdoing. Retaliation of any form is never the most effective way to deal with this issue. It is the antithesis of grace. We have to practice & sustain unity and peace in the manner of Jesus, and never should we follow another way, as defined by the culture.
Run for Justice, Fight for Love, and Pursue Peace!
We live in a society characterized by selfishness, retribution, animosity, injustice, inequality, oppression, and racial tension is not worth celebrating and defending. We need to stand against all manifestations of evil and hate in our society.
How to move forward toward a better society and the common good?
Here are a few suggestions:
- We need to prioritize Love not Hate.
- We need to prioritize Compassion not selfishness.
- We need to prioritize Justice not inequality.
- We need to prioritize Lives not politics.
- We need to give preference to Forgiveness not hostility.
- We need to give preference to Optimism not pessimism.
- We need to give preference to the Poor and the Oppressed, not elevate the rich and the exploiter!
These are dangerous times to seek to live in harmony with each other; these are also terrible moments to seek to protect the lives of the least among us, to run for justice and fight for love, and ultimately, to “turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm:34:14).
Watch the sermon online: