Sunday Message for 24 February 2019: “Golden Guidance”
Posted On February 6, 2019
Today’s message will cover the concluding part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. As in last Sunday’s coverage of the Beatitudes, Jesus again offers transforming moral guidance.
“ ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you ‘ ” (Luke 6:27). What a challenging verse, with Jesus declaring how best to deal with something that most people dread: enemies and haters. It is a common response to want to fight back when someone attacks; it’s human nature. But in the kingdom of heaven different forces are working. Instead of following the brutality of an eye-for-an-eye (the Old Testament teaching), Jesus suggests an entirely different attitude, guided by love and self-sacrifice. Thank God that Jesus’ teachings confront antiquated, unabashed brutality.
It’s monumentally difficult to endure harsh criticism and persecution. Whether in ancient or modern times, receiving abuse is not the high ideal of a joyful life. What is Jesus asking you to do when you are attacked? Brace yourself, because Jesus doesn’t pull any literary punches: “ ‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt’ “ (Luke 6: 29). Even when you’re attacked and robbed Jesus seems to be declaring that you should not fight back. This type of teaching is controversial because of the way it suggests becoming a victim, in accepting criminal behavior without recourse.
What lay behind Jesus’ teaching? Jesus’ startling statements are often described as “hyperbole,” which is wording designed to grab readers’ attention. The nature of reading and learning from the Bible (or any book) entails discerning what was in the mind of the author. If Jesus did say and intend all his words to be taken literally then people are challenged to live accordingly. To be intellectually honest requires accepting the possibility that Jesus may have meant what he said.
On the other hand, nagging questions persist about Jesus’ red-letter words in our elegantly-bound modern Bibles. Dare anyone smugly conclude that they can recite an errorless transcript of what was in Jesus’ mind? There is no faultless, independent way to know the whole truth of what was in Jesus’ head when he is said to have spoken certain words. This means that Jesus may not have said or meant what is recorded. Amid persistent doubts about biblical inerrancy and inspiration, Jesus’ teachings nonetheless remain priceless spiritual guidance intended to help people live a better life. For this reason, both enthusiastic believers and cynical skeptics are invited to embrace the promise and possibility of taking Jesus seriously.
People who spout and shout about other peoples’ sins often fail to follow Jesus’ commands, thereby calling attention to their own hypocrisy. Such prevalent hypocrisy is damaging to both self and others, especially as people see contradictions that undermine the credibility of the Christian faith. Consider persons who take their religion seriously and who want to follow Jesus. Is this you? On the one hand, those who proclaim Jesus as Messiah and God, if they deliberately contradict Jesus’ vital teachings, risk imperiling their souls. On the other hand, not taking the Bible, Jesus or God seriously similarly risks spiritual death. Given an imperfect humanity, following Jesus with radical love is one example of taking something on faith absent indisputable facts. Yes, the path of righteousness is an arduous journey but yearn for God’s inner-light which will illuminate your path.
Consider another monumental, reverberating verse:
“ ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ “ (Luke 6:31). This iconic verse has come to be known as the Golden Rule, the most succinct, powerful statement of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Many folks have said that if you emphasize only one verse, one teaching from the Bible then the Golden Rule is it. Even people who are neither religious nor spiritual embrace the wisdom of the verse, suggesting that if the Golden rule were more widely practiced then there would not be much need for religion. Whatever the case, the Golden Rule remains compelling, and if you can find ways to strive toward better achieving the Golden Rule then you’re well into fulfilling Jesus’ core teaching.
Loving other people is difficult; loving people who hate you even more so. Love is messy and God is calling you to transcend what is easy and convenient. Biblical and literary criticism aside, trying to love in the extreme way Jesus may have taught remains one of the toughest possible demands. Through faith and in the spirit of humanitarianism, there’s a crisis of choice, of each person needing to choose to love others as they need to be loved. For people who value humanity, being willing to love enemies and practice the Golden Rule is the high standard for a better life. As a follower of God, strive for a more loving response to everyone around you.