by Heather Bock
Read to the end to find a giveaway for a free book by Ann Voskamp that talks about giving love as a way of healing.
My community group has been going through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings, which has not proven to be an easy task. In this well-known sermon, Jesus called His listeners to a very high standard, higher than they’d known before (and they did think the Law was a pretty high standard).
The words that start me thinking every time I read this chapter in Matthew are Jesus’ when He reminds His listeners of a saying in the Law–“an eye for an eye.” He followed by flipping it on its head, that instead of seeking retribution when someone wrongs them, followers of Christ should turn their right cheek when someone evil slaps their left cheek–in other words, they should almost invite the person to hurt them again. When someone, like a Roman soldier, for example, forced them to walk a mile, they were to give him the grace of walking two. He followed this by saying we are not just to love our neighbors but our enemies as well (Matt. 5:38-48).
But, Jesus, our culture rises up to say, won’t this turn us into doormats? I refuse to be a weak doormat. I have my rights! My enemies will pay for what they’ve said and done!
That I know of, Jesus doesn’t directly answer this question. In fact, many of His disciples were persecuted and murdered. I would like to argue, though, that His disciples (and others who hold their power in check in favor of love) couldn’t be called doormats in their behavior, but instead strong and courageous. When I see or hear about someone acting like this, whether in real life or fiction, I am not moved to pity for or disgusted by a wimp, but instead I am inspired by a hero.
Let’s start with Stephen, the first martyr. Men stoned him because of his unwavering belief in Jesus as the Son of God, but did he call down curses on them? No, he called out to the Lord, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:59) just before he died. In the middle of being attacked by his enemies, he forgave them, giving them love. He resisted by standing firm for his beliefs, but he refused to give hate while doing so. Incidentally, the end result of many more disciples like Stephen being martyred was the spread of Christianity.
What about someone a little more modern? Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League Baseball player, was reviled by racists. He was repeatedly treated badly, but he did not retaliate. People were amazed at his restraint. Many consider him a hero because not only did he have the inner strength to stand up for his own race and dignity, but he also had the guts not to fight back with hate. Result? He started breaking down the barriers for more African Americans to play baseball at that high level.
In fiction, the character Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is treated with utter contempt and merciless persecution by police inspector Javert. At one point, Valjean finds Javert utterly under his power during a revolution. The others in the revolution expect him to kill Javert, and if he does, he will never again have the fear of imprisonment again. He chooses to let Javert go. It is one of the most moving scenes in the book, not because of the reader’s shock that Valjean acts so foolishly, but because of the astonishing grace given. The grace is so powerful, Javert is undone by it and sadly, instead of embracing it, chooses suicide. Valjean ends up freed by his love.
I would like to say that I find a lot of movies and books nowadays with this theme of a strong hero turning the other cheek. Unfortunately, our culture seems much more interested in revenge, a choice that only leads to more and more bloodshed and pain. However, our culture still has a saying that comes up now and then: “Be the better man.” I think we can still recognize the value in doing right and choosing love even when all around us choose hate. We must be strong in our beliefs and stand for the disadvantaged and persecuted, but when we retaliate by spilling hateful words and actions back on our enemies, we lower ourselves to their level. Didn’t many of us wish at least one of the presidential candidates would have chosen to do this?
I would be remiss if I left out one more example of this. Jesus didn’t just speak empty words in a sermon. He acted this out. Jesus, the One who spoke the world into existence, could have spoken one word, and all those wanting Him dead would have fallen down dead themselves. The only perfectly innocent One was reviled, whipped, and hung on a cross, and He let this happen in deference to a higher purpose. Stephen’s words of forgiveness were only echoes of Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).
Paul, in Romans says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Rom. 12:17-21).
With the Holy Spirit’s help, can’t we choose love over hate, even for our political enemies?
I am in the middle of a drawing for a free book called The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. I feel the message of this book is exactly what we need right now–part of it gives a message of giving, even when people treat you badly. Later, I will do another drawing for a study guide with DVD. To enter for the book, subscribe to my blog:
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Giveaways are open to residents of the continental U.S. and Canada only.
I will announce the winner this coming Saturday, so look for it! Thank you!
DISCLOSURE (IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE FTC’S 16 CFR, PART 255: “GUIDES CONCERNING THE USE OF ENDORSEMENTS AND TESTIMONIALS IN ADVERTISING”): MANY THANKS TO THE BLOGABOUT NETWORK FOR GIVING ME TWO COPIES OF THE BROKEN WAY IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST OPINION.
The Broken Way Study Guide with DVD will be available this month.