In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Fair and Equal
We want what’s fair. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” that sounds fair. We want the bad guy to lose, we want the criminal to pay for his crimes, and we want those who hurt us to suffer for what they do. We call it justice.
Less flattering names include: getting even, settling the score, taking revenge, punishment, reprisal, retaliation, retribution, or vengeance. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” that’s what we want. We want the bully to pay. We want the snob to be humiliated. They deserve it. It would only be fair.
We’ve Done It
We’ve all done it, gotten even I mean. It comes naturally and we know how good it feels. We’ve done it to loved ones. We’ve even done it after we’ve told someone we forgiven them. It’s not easy to forget a wrong done to us. It’s so easy to hold a grudge.
We’ve all done it, tried to hurt someone as badly as we were hurt by them. We’ve tried to take justice into our own hands. We’ve pronounced the verdict on others “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
We have heard it said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” We have heard these words or ones similar to them and we have followed through with our thoughts, words, and deeds.
By our very nature we are curved in on ourselves. By our very nature, we look out for number one. We’re not going to let anyone take advantage of us. We want to be treated fairly and with justice. We see the slightest insult as a major sin against us.
Our fallen nature asks, “How can I get even?” “How can I get justice for myself?” The deeper we look into our hearts the more we see how concerned we are with getting even. As we view ourselves, we see that we are all about getting justice for ourselves.
But Jesus Said
So with that mindset we come to church this morning. We sit comfortably in our pews until we hear the words of Jesus in the gospel reading.
“You have heard that it was said, “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right check, turn to him the other also. And if someone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.””
Just like last week, we hear Jesus say, “But I say to you.” We hear Jesus say,
“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.””
These are difficult words with which to agree. Is there to be no justice? Are criminals to be free to roam the streets without punishment? With these words, Jesus is not talking to governments, to the police, to judges and juries. They have a God given responsibility to protect citizens from criminals and to see that justice is done.
Jesus is not talking to them, but Jesus is talking to you and me as we live out our daily lives. These words of Jesus force us to take an honest look at ourselves. There are times when we find it difficult to love even our friends and closest relatives. We certainly find it difficult to love our enemies. It’s a matter of our hearts.
You Must Be
Yes these words are difficult for us to understand and even more difficult for us to act out in our own lives. But there is some very good news in these words. The good news is that these words are being spoken by Jesus. Remember who Jesus is, he is the Son of the heavenly Father. He came not to condemn us but to save us.
Consider the justice that you deserve. You have said it yourself, “You have not loved the Lord or your neighbor as the Lord has called you to do.” You have not given thanks for all his benefits. You are quick to anger and abounding in judgement of others. You are not perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
You have sinned and if you were treated fairly by God he would have every reason to hate you. If you were treated with justice, you would receive God’s present and eternal punishment. But in teaching you to love and show mercy to those in need Jesus is showing you today how he deals with you.
As Jesus says, “But I say to you,” we hear about his heart. We hear about fairness and justice from a God who tells us he is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Jesus is telling us about being merciful and as we hear his words we also see his mercy poured out on us.
“Do not resist the one who is evil.” On the night when he was betrayed Jesus did not resist the guards who came to arrest him as part of the evil plot against him. Jesus had his disciple put down his sword. Jesus healed the man who had been injured.
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” When the soldiers beat him and put a crown of thorns on his head Jesus did not call down a legion of angels to punish them. Instead Jesus let them pound nails into his hands and feet so that he could hang from a cross.
When they took Jesus clothing from him, he willingly hung naked on the cross. When the thief on the cross begged Jesus to remember him in his kingdom Jesus did not turn him away. Instead he said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” When the rulers scoffed at him and the crowd mocked him, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them.” And finally when we come to Jesus praying, “Lord have mercy” he cries from the cross, “It is finished.”
Yes it is finished. It is not fair that Jesus died and you will have eternal life. It is not justice that he was forsaken and that you are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven as God’s beloved child. It is not fairness or justice, it is God’s mercy. Everything that Jesus is teaching you about being merciful to others is what he did for you and more.
What an unbelievable contrast between the heart of Jesus and our hearts. Rather than receiving what is fair and just and what we deserve, our God chose to shower us with love. The heart of Jesus is a heart full of love for the otherwise lost and condemned.
The gospel reading ends with Jesus saying to us, “Be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect.” They echo the Lord’s words in the Old Testament reading, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,”
These words convict us until we know about God’s mercy and the perfect obedience of Jesus. Your holiness is not found in what you are able to do, it is found in Jesus Christ. Your perfection is found in the perfect life that Jesus lived on your behalf and the perfect sacrifice that he made to take away your sins.
Your holiness is found in the One who unites you with himself through baptism, the One who nourishes you with his very body and blood, the One who gives and strengthens your faith through his Word.
We want what is fair. We want justice. God gives us mercy. By God’s mercy you are who God declares you to be. You are a holy people set apart to show mercy, the mercy of Christ who lives in you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.