Genesis 45:3-11, 15 Luke 6:27-38
7thSunday after Epiphany
Sometimes, it just feels so good to be angry! Do you know what I mean? We continue to find terrible things our enemy did that prove our position. Believing that we are justified in our anger, we puff-up with righteous indignation. We take pride at being wronged by someone when we are so obviously innocent. It makes us feel that we are better than the other guy. Then we come to church and Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.” As if this were not difficult enough, Jesus continues, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”
Before we go further, hear this clearly; Jesus is not condoning any form of abuse. Abuse is never justifiable. Jesus is not saying that we should tolerate violence, or that we should submit to someone who denies our personhood. God’s desire is for us to flourish and be full of joy. Being silent about your pain can kill you Perpetrators are to be held accountable for their actions. Forgiveness does not mean that you excuse or forget the wrong that has been done. Forgiveness means that you are not shackled to your pain. Can our wounds turn into scars, and can we really be free from our woundedness, without forgiveness? With God’s help, forgiveness helps us to find a path forward and a way to live in hope as God beloved.
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” How do we make sense of that? To know that any human could hurt another human angers us. That’s appropriate. Anger is a sign that something is not the way it should be. It may be that “the something” wrong is with us. Anger can be instrumental in protecting ourselves and others. Anger can be used productively. Anger can be the impetus that propels us to change discriminatory systems and to expose injustice. The key is not to let anger take control of us so that we lose perspective. Anger needs to be managed before it consumes us, and before we use it to hurt others.
What we read today is a continuation of last week’s Gospel. Last week, we heard that Jesus and his disciples had come down from the mountain. Standing on the plain, people gathered around to hear him speak. Others came to be healed. When Jesus began to teach them, he said that the poor and the hungry were blessed. After speaking of blessings and woes, Jesus continues, prefacing his imperatives, “But I say to you that listen.” These are God’s people who are looking for, and are part of, all at the same time, the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. “You that listen,” Jesus addresses those standing with him. “You who listen,” Jesus addresses us, we who gather around his word. We who listen have come because we are in need of healing. We who listen hunger for a better way to live in a world full of injustice and untruths, full of destructive anger and unforgiving.
To we who come to this holy house while separating ourselves from others whodo not think as we do, or love in the way we do, , Jesus says, “Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive, and give.” These are words to us, we have been wronged, and to we who have wronged someone else. We have done both. Just as we are both saint and sinner, we are also victim and victimizer.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann keenly observes, “If you find some part of your life where your daily round has grown thin and controlling and resentful, then these texts are for you. Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined…. The terms of life, however, are other than our own. They are the terms of the generous, merciful, giving, forgiving God.”
The story of Joseph and his brothers provides a perfect illustration. Did you know Joseph’s brothers sold him to strangers? My sister did that to me. It was when she starting marking down the price that it really got to me. Today we focus on the part of the story in which Joseph forgives his brothers and saves them from starvation. Read the whole story. Joseph set his brothers up. He made his siblings shake in their saddles, deceived them, and made it look as if their brother Benjamin was a thief. There are no innocent people in this story.
It seems that what Jesus is telling us to do is impossible for us. In Lutheran language, it is law. To love our enemies and do good to those who hate us can only prove that we are sinful. We are broken people who cannot always do what is right, and who can never save ourselves. Realizing this, we are driven into God’s open arms of grace and mercy.
Lutheran pastor and professor David Lose suggests that Jesus’ words are not law, but rather are a promise, a promise which invites us “into a whole other world. A world that is not about measuring and counting and weighing and competing and judging and paying back and hating and all the rest. But instead is about love. Love for those who have loved you. Love for those who haven’t. Love even for those who have hated you. That love gets expressed in all kinds of creative ways, but often come through by caring – extending care and compassion and help and comfort to those in need – and forgiveness – not paying back but instead releasing one’s claim on another and opening up a future where a relationship of…love is still possible.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate,” Dr. King said, “only love can do that.” Violence draws retaliation, angry words are met with more hostile ones, and misdeeds matched with misdeeds creates a vicious cycle and a world full of fear. It seems endless. When we forgive, when we seek the good of the other, the cycle is disrupted, and justice can happen. We don’t seem to be very good at loving our enemies and forgiving those who have wronged us. The one we have the most trouble forgiving is ourselves.
Jesus was. Jesus was so good at bringing God’s forgiveness and loving his enemies that they killed him. Even from the cross, he loved them. Our human anger, our clinging to established systems of injustice and even our violence against the one who came to save us could not win. God’s love for us defeated death itself.
For we who have been victims, suffering and diminished, Jesus says, “Here is my body, broken and given for you. Take and eat,–you will be made whole.” For we who have victimized others, Jesus says, “Here is my body, broken and given for you even while you were still sinners. In it there is forgiveness powerful enough to break the chains that bind you.” In Christ, in his suffering, death and resurrection, in his forgiveness and love, is our hope. May it be so.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
Brueggemann, Walter. The Threat of Life. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996. 15-16.
Lose, David. In the Meantime. Epiphany 7C. http://www.davidlose.net/2019/02/epiphany-7-c-command-or-promise/