A little bit of sunshine, a little bit of rain…
In our current discussion series, #blessed:happy people in a kingdom of happiness, we have been looking at Jesus’ most popular sermon, The Sermon on the Mount. We looked at his message about “Kingdom” and his descriptions of “happiness” in Matthew 4 and 5. We sat at tables and discussed happiness, something I think we all desire.
Last Sunday we moved on in chapter five of the Gospel According to Matthew and discussed “law.” Jesus used the very important “Law of God (Moses)” to point people to their need of God. He challenged popular interpretations and teachings about the law. He demonstrated authority throughout this process, making six “you’ve heard it said, but I say” statements. These included matters of Anger/Justice, Adultery/Divorce, Dealings/Contracts, Revenge/Love.
Jesus teaches the extent of the law itself and builds a platform for righteousness that only he could acheive. He included the law but also transcended it. In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr explains the necessity of “transcend and include” for spiritual maturity…
“The advantage of those on the further journey is that they can still remember and respect the first language and task. They have transcended but also included all that went before.”
What Jesus does with the final, “…but I say” statement is the most powerful and potent of the six.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
Did you catch that part about sunshine and rain? This is a common use of metaphor to describe God’s grace. Sunshine and rain were necessary for healthy life in ancient cultures. In largely agrarian communities you prayed for these two things. You needed them both to prosper. They are both good. Not like in our culture where sunlight is good but rain is often portrayed as bad.
So, when Jesus says that loving an “enemy” or “persecutor” makes you like God he’s expressing two important things…
- All people matter to God. Even the evil, unjust persecutor. That person you don’t think deserves love and grace, they don’t, and that doesn’t matter to God. WHAT???!!!!???? That’s why grace doesn’t fit into our economy of merit and worthiness. Grace is scandalous.
- All people should matter to us. If we follow Jesus, people should matter to us too. Being “like God” is possible. How we love makes it possible. When we view all people as the same, our love will not be viewed the same!
A lot of love and grace…
I like to explain the love, grace, and inclusive nature of Jesus by describing the very nature of open tables. Tables are important. They are more than a place to eat or meet. They symbolize, and have for centuries, commonality. Think of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Tables have a way of helping us level the playing field. They encourage us to look into they eyes of another. They are an inanimate object that has the potential to animate our life and relationships like very few other objects.
For Jesus, tables were a place to love people. He sat with the worst of the worst at parties. He sat with his disciples and called them friends not servants. He used stories of banquet tables to dispel any ideas that any person is not invited into relationship with God through Jesus.
I think one way to understand Jesus’ transcendent statement to love your enemy is to view it as a command to “build a bigger table.” Add chairs to the place where you share. Share your life. Share your food. Share stories, traditions, and life experiences. God’s grace extends to the just, the unjust, and everyone in between. Does ours? Is our “table” open to the most loyal friend and most treacherous betrayer.
Jesus’ table was open. He was in the business of building bigger tables (and not just because he was the son of a carpenter). Tables for the worst of the worst. For women. For children. For Roman soldiers. For the world. The only ones uninterested in sitting at this open table? The religious elite. The ones who did not send sunlight and rain to the vast spectrum of peoples.
They had a different economy from God, yet called it holy and divine in nature. They missed the point. They became so loyal to a system that they missed the truth that system was calling them to embrace. Are we guilty of doing the same? Rather than part of the process, the law had become the product. That was never God’s intention.
If we cannot learn to “transcend and include” we too will miss the importance of the spiritual traditions that helped form us. More importantly, we will miss the further journey God has for us. One that builds bigger tables, broader doorways, and more welcoming communities of faith!