Love Anyway

Sunday, August 14, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Matthew 5:38-49

Deb Kielsmeier

August 14, 2022

Today we are smack dab in the middle of our series on the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching about kingdom living and the radically subversive way of love. We are struck by the stunning images of God’s love in action and the equally convicting challenge of his commands.

In today’s scripture passage Jesus is correcting what the religious leaders of the day were teaching about the law. He begins each correction or antitheses (as theologians call them) with the phrase “You have heard that it was said.” And then corrects that teaching, saying BUT I say to you.

What were the religious leaders teaching? It was an external obedience that focused on rule keeping and the nit-picky aspects of the law. These leaders were obsessed with their own performance and external righteousness, but inside, they were full of pride and judgmentalism.

“But I say to you” – Jesus says. And then Jesus dives deep, insisting that the law should be kept from the inside out, and reflect the heart of God. A heart full of love.

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 an evildoer.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? That sounds barbaric. But this law was meant to curb violence and keep vengeance from escalating and spinning wildly out of control. Think of Hatfields and the McCoys. In Latin this is known as lex talionis, or the law of retribution. Basically, it means that a punishment should be equal to the crime. The courts and justice system are based upon this principle.  Although today, A fitting punishment usually means a monetary fine or imprisonment. NOT physical maiming.

But I say to you, Jesus says… Do not resist an evil person. Don’t demand vengeance or retribution. Instead….  offer grace, love, and forgiveness.

For example,

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.

The culture Jesus lived in was shame-based culture and honor and saving face was a very big deal. The physical sting of a slap was nothing compared to the insult and social humiliation it would bring.

Jesus mentions the right cheek here. If you are sitting near someone, take a moment and turn to look at your neighbor. Don’t slap them. But visualize how would you slap their right cheek?

Okay, the way I see it, you have two options: Either you slap with your right hand by back handing them – or you slap them open handed with your left hand.

In Jesus’ culture backhanding twice as offensive as an open-handed slap. Why? Because it was a gesture of dismissal – like you were so much trash. And a left-handed slap was more degrading than a right-handed slap. So, either way, getting your right cheek slapped was extremely humiliating.

As a result, the perpetrator would have to pay double for such an offense. Fair is fair. But Jesus tells us to offer the other cheek. Don’t insist on your rights. It is counter intuitive, but tit-for-tat, cheek-for-cheek retaliation is not God’s way.

But wait. Does this mean Jesus wants us to be passive victims?  Do we just grin and bear it if we are physically attacked? Does this mean we never speak out or stand up for justice against abuses of power?

“Do not resist an evildoer,” Jesus tells us. Scholars (thank God for Biblical scholars) tell us that the Greek word for “resist” here almost always assumes a military context – the resistance would be violent and involve taking up arms. With that understanding, a clearer translation might be “Do not violently resist an evildoer.” Instead resist non-violently, overcoming evil with good.

Give to those who ask. Be generous with your time and resources. Do not insist upon your rights but offer to go the extra mile. If we do this, the chain of violence and retaliation is broken. Instead, God’s heart of love is reflected in our lives.

But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes on: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

In the Fiddler on the Roof, the Jewish people living in a Russian village were being persecuted by the Czar. At one point the Rabbi’s son asks: “Is there a proper blessing for the Czar?” After pondering, the rabbi responds: “Of course . . . May God bless and keep the Czar . . . far away from us!”

Amen! Keep our enemies far far away.

The problem is… when we pray for our enemies, we allow them to come very near…as we speak their names and lift them up to God. It is hard  to pray for the wellbeing of those who oppress, abuse, shame and hurt us or our loved ones. Yet an amazing thing happens when we do. The strangle hold of resentment and bitterness in our hearts softens into forgiveness and we begin to see them with God’s eyes. As broken human beings created in God’s image.

This is where faith meets life. You and I may not be persecuted by a Czar or Roman occupiers. But my guess is there are people you resent, who have hurt, shamed, or abused you or someone you love. This week, intentionally pray for them. It isn’t easy. But it is good.

I know. It is a tall order. But Jesus isn’t done yet. He ends this passage with the words… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Repeat)

Please hear me on this one. Jesus is not endorsing perfectionism here. Perfectionism is a tendency to make our lives into a self-absorbed report card on our accomplishments. It was what the religious leaders were into. Instead, we are asked to look up – to God, who will love us, transform us, and empower us.

And to look out – and care about others in love.

The focus is decidedly not on us and our performance, but on God and others.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says – Be perfect? The Greek word translated perfect is τέλειος (teleios). It also means complete, whole, or mature. A Christ-like maturity that reflects God’s love vs. “never make a mistake.”

The Common English Bible translates verse 38 this way: “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”


And the Message, a paraphrase, reads: “In a Word, what I am saying is Grow Up! You are kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

And so, in closing, as kingdom citizens, let us look up – entrusting ourselves to Christ, asking the Spirit to transform us from the inside out. And then, let us look outward, reflecting God’s generous heart of love to others.  Even to our enemies.


Past Sermons