“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 one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Love ’til It Hurts, And Then Some”
written by Jack Crandall
Delivered in 1965 Trinity Presbyterian, 1967 Fairmont Presbyterian, 1969 Pendleton Presbyterian and 1972 Pendleton Presbyterian Churches
Of all the truths contained in the Sermon on the Mount, we have here this morning perhaps the most disturbing. This admonition by Jesus to his disciples that they love their enemies and those who persecute them, and that they are to pray for them. This admonition is known by those who do not profess Christianity. It is thrown into the faces of many Christians by cynics and skeptics. But as it is true of anything else in the record stated by the master, in order to understand what He is saying we must probe deeply-it requires much more of us than just a casual glance, and then acceptance or rejection. No doubt these very words have caused some discomfort to some seated here this morning, and rightfully so. Jesus begins by citing the oldest recorded law in the world: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. That law is known as the Lex Talionis, and it may be described as the law of tit for tat.’ It appears in the earliest known code of laws, the Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon from 1728 to 2242 B.C., the 15th century before Christ. This law became part and parcel of the ethic of the Old Testament, where we find it laid down no fewer than three times. On our present day law books~ the laws are constructed with this principle of retaliation to match the injury inflicted be it bodily or property damage. If you do such and such, you will be imprisoned, fined or even put to death. This Lex Talionis law of tit-for-tat, manifests itself in the lives of each of us. If a person is genuinely nice to us, we feel compelled to be nice in return. But if they are ugly to us, if they make cutting derogatory remarks about us or to us we leap to the ramparts of defense, slashing back to repay two-fold with distain and denouncing repudiation. “You hurt me and so I’m going to hurt you-you talk about me, so I’m goin’ talk .about you.” It sorta reminds you of two kids out of the play ground during recess. “I’m gonna pay you back. You just wait and see.” And the world knods its sinful head approvingly, the society in which we live affirms this principle that whatever someone does to you, you are entitled to do likewise unto them.
But then Jesus Christ has to butt in and upset everything. He says to us that human law and justice are incapable of regulating our relation to our neighbor as God wants it to be. He points out that the law is only a regulation of necessity which is necessary in our fallen world. This is the way things are on the human level. But remember, this sermon is addressed to disciples, to believers who are inhabitants of the household of God; persons who view their fellows from an even more noble vantage point than laws written by men. The moment I see the other person before God, where I myself as a disciple of Jesus, then I know that Jesus Christ died for this other person; this unpleasant, irritating, disagreeable, and perhaps unprincipled person. By that very act this other person acquires his infinite importance. Before, from the view point of the tit-for-tat principle, I saw him from the point of view of whether he helped or hurt me. I, myself was always in the center of all the rules according to which I dealt with Jesus. In the last analysis I was the end for which he was a suitable or unsuitable means.”
But now, beneath the eyes of Jesus Christ, the whole question changes. There I no longer stand in the center, but rather the other person, whom the disciple sees as Jesus Christ sees him, another person made in the image of God in need of redemption. Then, because under the eyes of Jesus I see this other person in a totally new way, with a dignity of his own, the dignity of being a brother of Jesus Chris t, I am compelled to ask: “What will serve his eternal salvation? What can I do, what must I do, in order that Jesus may not have died for him in vain? Once I face that question, then the following consideration comes up: “If I merely react to him legalistically, if I merely do to him what he has done to me (and nobody could blame me for this!) then I merely harden him, then he will only be driven deeper into his resentment, his bitterness, his cynicism and his slovenliness. And that means, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I w~lwould be doing wrong to him. I would become the guilty one. When Jesus Christ asks me about him at the Last Judgment, I may perhaps wish to say, “But I acted correctly; (everybody told me that I was justified in doing what I did; I did nothing that he did not do to me first.” But I shall never get the words past my lips, for suddenly I shall see the nail prints in the hands of the Crucified.
Jesus did not confine himself to what t was acceptable in his attitude toward me. If he had done so, if he had dealt with me according to the rule of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” I would surely be headed for hell. Instead he called me brother and shed his blood, even though I was his enemy. Once you have encountered the crucified, you will see your fellowman, be he friend or foe, in an entirely different light. You will see him as your responsibility before God to escort into the fellowship of God’s family. Unless the fires of vengeance are extinguished by the grace of God, you will never be able to turn the other cheek, to love your enemy, nor claim adoption into the household of God. Perhaps many of you react to this admonition of Christ as beautiful pious words but nothing more. I’m only human and some things just rub me the wrong way. We say, “How can I bring myself to love my enemy?
How did Jesus accomplish this? What actually happened when Jesus practiced that deepest of all love making it possible for him to pray for his enemies even while dying on a cross? What he said was: “for they know not what they do.” And surely he could say this only if he saw in them something completely different from a sadistic, excited mob of people a wild crowd of human beasts. He could say this only if he saw in all who stood shouting around his cross-lost, strayed children of God.
For you see, his gaze penetrated the outer dirty surface and saw beneath it something entirely different, something these people were really meant to be, that God really intended them to be. Every person is ultimately a thought of God; true a dreadfully distorted and almost unrecognizable one, but nevertheless a thought of God. Ralph Luther once expressed it this way: To love one’s enemy does not mean to love the mire in which the pearl lies but to love the pearl that lies in the mire.” So love for one’s enemy is not based on an act of will, a kind of self-control by which I try to suppress all feelings of hatred; but rather it is based upon a gift, a gift of grace that lives in me and gives me new eyes. So that with these new eyes I can see something divine in even the worst of people.
But, you say, isn’t this just a beautiful theory? Can this new way of seeing the other person become reality, say in the midst of war, or in the hostility of a broken marriage? Helmut Theilick states that he heard once of a woman whose husband was really a beastly monster. From any human point of view she would only dispise him in his animal sensuality and his sodden brutal drunkenness. But then the woman who was a Christian said whenever some hateful incident occurred, perhaps when he was facing her glassy, drunken eyes, perhaps lifting his hand to strike her and all revulsion and anger of a violated, betrayed human being leaped up like a flame within her, then suddenly she remembered some nice thing he had said to her in the days of their engagement. Suddenly, she realized that in this one good word, forgotten oh so long ago, the real man in her husband was speaking. That one good word was a hint, a glimpse of what God really intended him to be. There, in that word, lay something of the gleam of a pearl now covered with mud.
From that moment on she could never see in his eyes anything but a deep and hungry cry for liberation and could never look at him without seeing his depraved soul enclosed in a horrible prison. Suddenly she realized: this monster of a husband is not merely a beast; he is a horribly lost and pitiful child who needs love and compassion.
Don’t you see? This one word remembered from days of love opened it all up and now all of a sudden she saw her husband in an altogether different light. She had caught a glimpse of what Christ saw as he looked down from the Cross.
When this gift of new eyes is given, as it was to this woman, then a miracle happens. When the people who were looked upon with the eyes of Jesus, who realized that those eyes recognized in them their lost and buried son ship, they were suddenly changed and able to recover. In Luke’s Gospel we are told that after Jesus’ last dying cry the people beat their breasts in a gesture of remorse. The eyes of Jesus and the eyes of a disciple not only see the pearl, but also help release it, helping to bring out the son ship of God in the other person.
Everyone of us can have the same experience, if we would. It is indeed a disturbing thing for a fallen, hate filled, embittered, evil person to meet a person whose eyes do not stop at his sordid exterior; whose eyes see through the armor of mire and spite into those dimensions where the publicans and the harlots and the drunkards are still children, beloved and mourned of God! Believe every one of those unhappy, bitter and wicked people you know are all waiting for this look from the eyes of a disciple, which will better them and heal them-just as you yourself are waiting for it too.
This Jesus who stands over there among our enviers and haters, among the thieves, harlots, drunkards, this Jesus is asking that we take our stand with him and discover the terribly ravaged son ship within our brothers and sisters and with love woo it: from its grave.
Don’t you see? This is the gospel-with all its difficulties and strange talk of loving one’s enemies. That’s what it is. It demands of Christ’s disciples to love ‘til it hurts and then some. This world which is choking and dying of hate and revenge is waiting for the new renewing eyes of disciples. It is waiting for the eyes that see man’s son ship to God and therefore also see the bridge that leads to the neighbors heart and even to the enemy’s heart.
That neighbor of yours who gets on your nerves is waiting for that look. That co-worker with whom you are at odds, that child of yours who is breaking your heart and for whom you hardly know what to do. That husband who has changed sadly and disappointed you so bitterly. That church member who is perhaps seated near you this very moment, and all others who bring tension and discord into your life. All of them are waiting for you to discover in them what Jesus saw in them, and what gave Him strength to die for them. All of them, friends and enemies, the good and the bad, are beloved, straying, erring children of the Father in heaven who is seeking them in pain and agony. Who else will ever see this child of God in them and lovingly draw it out of them if not you–you who are yourself standing beneath the eyes of Jesus and being seen as such a child?