Turning Things Upside Down

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Matthew 5:38-47 (NIV)

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which has a complete plot switch towards the end? The story line may appear to be taking you in a certain direction but before the book ends, the plot winds up resulting in a completely opposite outcome. This can be shocking, frustrating or even disarming but for some reason there also exists some excitement when this occurs. The unexpected can create a thrill for the viewer or reader.

Jesus creates a plot twist in his teaching as recorded by the writer of Matthew. The people of his time, and we who are later readers, understand the social norms of how to react when we have been treated unfairly or have an enemy. But Jesus turns all of our understandings and social norms upside down. Jesus teaches that instead of an eye for an eye, we are to not retaliate when someone treats us wrong. Instead, we are to offer more than they demand from us. Jesus continues in teaching opposite reactions when he speaks of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. He calls us to be different from others who follow the norms of our society.

This is absolutely mind blowing. Surely Jesus really did not expect us to follow these teachings. Perhaps we should just skip over this passage. Perhaps it was an editorial addition which some scribe added during translation. If Jesus really did say these words, then we have to redirect our instinctual responses. We cannot seek revenge but instead we must offer more. We cannot seeth about and lash out toward our enemies and persecutors but extend love and pray for them. It is just like Jesus to shake up our view of what seems right. He even went further by demonstrating this as he was persecuted and hung on the cross.  Guess that he meant it.

Thoughts and Ways

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:6-13 (NIV)

Each of us establishes an approach to life over time. Our thoughts and behaviors develop out of our experiences, our context and our culture. An understanding of relationships, family and marriage is a prime example of this. We define family according to what we have witnessed within our own family. The manner in which we treat others is influenced by how we have been treated and observed others being treated. In marriage, the type of mate we choose along with the roles and behaviors once we are married are products of the experiences and definitions which have been presented to us. We then project these thoughts and behaviors upon others, assuming they think and behave exactly as we do.

The reading for today begins with the instruction to seek the Lord. As part of this quest, we are told to abandon our ways and thoughts while turning to the Lord who will show mercy and pardon us. Once we have found the Lord, we discover that God’s thoughts and ways are different than our own. The Lord’s thoughts will produce and bring forth goodness for all creation. This discovery will lead to us experiencing joy and peace. Our response will include songs in concert with all of creation.

Often we attempt to project our thoughts and behaviors upon the Lord. We assume God will act and behave exactly as we would in any giving situation. The definitions and responses we utilize in our daily interactions are presumed by us to be the same ones utilized by the Lord. Today’s passage points out the error in these thoughts and assumptions.

We must first seek the Lord. In doing so, it is necessary for us to leave all preconceptions behind. When we spend time in Scripture and prayer, we will discover that some of our understanding of who God is needs to change. We cannot translate our approach to life into being the Lord’s approach. Instead we must strive to adopt the Lord’s ways and thoughts. Then God can produce positive results for us and all within the world.