Luke 6:20-31 CEB
There are times I don't feel my job is easy. Not because I can't get enough words out for the weekly meditation, because that's just word count. Honestly, it becomes easier to write the longer I do it. It is difficult when my call breathes shoulder and down my neck to tell me to do what I am here to do. I believe I am called to speak from an authentic educated voice in order to stitch the broken pieces of Christianity back together. The longer I do it the more I see how difficult my call actually is. The first part is not difficult. Any person can put out a soapbox and say whatever they want. The internet is full of people with big ideas both good and bad. As I said before, the voices on the internet are so many, it becomes difficult to hear authentic. So, the problem comes when I am standing with a thread and needle, a bottle of glue, or whatever metaphor you want to imagine to help you see what I am saying. It is terribly easy to pick the poison over the antidote, because the poison is packaged up in a nice and easy to swallow dose. The truth is gathering dust in the corner because the truth can get the good ministers fired and the real messages ignored. In a world where everyone is promising the easy solution, the real solution is pushed aside.
I have prefaced in the way I have because the scripture today was where it all began for me. It all hit me while sitting in a class my very last semester in seminary. Before this class my war cry (if you can call it that) was God is love, loving is acting out God, and it is that easy. I consider this the base for my theology. If you are not reading this base in my meditations I suggest you return to them, because it is there. By my last semester I was really waking up. My first year I was pregnant, the second year I was a new mom. I learned much these first two years but I have to say it was more allowing the information to sink in because I was just too tired to engage the material. My third year the Word was alive and I was alive. My prayer to God was simple: I have a base, what do I do with it?
In this last class of my seminary career, the professor placed the Sermon on the Mount in front of us, both scriptures from Matthew and Luke. They are both extremely similar, but both quite different. Matthew’s gospel has Jesus saying “Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness sake for they will be filled.” In contrast, Luke’s gospel has Jesus saying “Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled.” If they sound the same to you, they are not. Matthew’s take has Jesus searching for the soul of the issue; the internal struggle. Luke’s take has Jesus searching the physical issues of real hunger and poverty. One is external and one is internal. Someone in the class asked, "Which one do we follow?" I heard the professor say, "It really is a personal choice. Pick the one you like and follow it."
I knew the moment I heard those words come from my professor my answer would shape my future within Christianity. I had reached this fork in the road. I had to make a choice or stall out. I found myself asking some very important questions on my road to discovery. Which came first? Matthew or Luke? I found that answer wasn't sufficient enough so I asked, which one is the more accurate depiction of Jesus Christ? I found, either way you go there are countless scholars on both sides of the argument. It didn't seem there was a consensus! So, I really couldn't turn to the scholarly opinion on this one…
My final decision was to choose a new road focused on the base of my theology: God's love. They are both the words of Jesus. Matthew was said to the crowd and Luke was said to the Disciples. It makes perfect sense! God cares about both the internal and external struggle of humanity! They both lead to very different and important conclusions: Jesus’ words in Matthew leads to how people see you even if the blessings and needs are internal. Jesus’ words in Luke lead to how you should treat others, even if it sounds like it is condemning a specific group of people. (And, in all honesty, as a social gospel, it does a great job condemning all equally.)
So, let’s heighten our focus specifically on Luke as a “Social Gospel.” If Jesus’ words had finished at verse 26, after condemning those ‘who have’ verses those ‘who have not’ it would draw a line in the sand separating those God loves with those God does not. Stopping there, the answer is clear- God is for the oppressed. God’s focus is solely on those who are in need. If you are in a good place right now physically you should be wary- divine reversal is headed your way, and it’s not pretty. The only salvation for those ‘who have’ is to understand how we have oppressed others and come to God in utter humility of our actions.
How’s that for a Halloween scary story? I have two problems with understanding the scripture that way. First, it draws the line in the sand. Was it not Paul who wrote “In Christ there is no slave or free, male or female?” It seems a little off to me. Secondly, the ‘have nots’ are off the hook when it comes to relationship. Isn’t that interesting? It does this by maintaining a group of people in a specific way. It would make a group who are poor and oppressed feel guilty if ever they were to achieve anything, if ever they were to rise above their oppression. If they were ever to become one of the ‘haves’ they would be in danger of facing divine reversal. (In this case, another phrase for God’s wrath.) And now you all know the major critique of Liberation Theology. I am not the only one who sees this issue.
But thank God! Jesus continues speaking. If Jesus draws lines in the sand it is only to show what we have done to ourselves and Jesus always follows it up by erasing those lines. The next line in verse 27 is: “Love your enemies- do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus is talking about loving a group of people who live in an attitude of hate and act out by drawing lines in the sand, creating separations. Finally, scorning the ‘less than worthy’ from their safe distance. If anything, the more difficult task remains for those who are considered the ‘have nots.’ The turn thy cheek approach sounds easy on paper but when you are verbally or physically slapped the reality of it could become as difficult as overcoming a brick wall. It just seems impossible. And, what makes it so difficult is love.
Love is not ignorance. If you are acting in self interest it might mean leaving or reacting in hate back. If you are acting in love you are seeking the best possible outcome for the situation. If you love those who persecute and scorn you, you are seeking to make them the best they can be. You want them to overcome what they have become. More importantly, it seeks to end the cycle of hate. See how difficult that is? Have you ever felt arguments devolve into playground battles? It is so petty you just expect a teacher to come up and ask why you hit that girl. I can just hear the answer in my mind: “She hit me first.” The truth is our lives are more complex than school yard bullies. Also, we are no longer children. ‘When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.’ Uh, in some ways, we haven’t. I have heard it throughout the years. In fact, one of these I heard this past week. “She will get hers in the end.” “I have one word for him, Karma.” “I hope they suffer as much as I have.”
When I was saying the ‘have nots’ have the more difficult job, I wasn’t kidding. Pain is not fair. There is no equality when it comes to hurting others. There is only the false sense of power from those creating the pain and the brokenness of those experiencing it. And in the end, the ones inflicting pain are also hurting themselves. The only equality comes from love. And that is true whether you are dealing with the internal or the external struggle. It is true whether you are reading the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke. If I could sum up what Jesus was saying to the Disciples: end the cycle of hate. Do not hate those who hate you. They are truly hurting themselves. They too are a member of the body of Christ and God wants them to find wholeness as well.
I shared a message very similar to this three years ago. They did not take it well because they couldn't see why I would point out the differences in a moment that was supposed to be the same. I had my soapbox and they turned me off instead of listening to what I was really saying. There is something I want to share with you that I didn't share with them, and I wish I did. The Sermon on the Mount highlighted for me how broken Christianity has become. We are two groups each speaking our own language. We are like the Mystics and the Skeksis from the Dark Crystal. One side is all spiritual and individually focused. One side is physical and communally focused. In our drive to pick which Sermon on the Mount we align ourselves with we fail to see Christianity is broken. Our only hope is praying there is a Jen out there who has the piece that will bring us back together and give order to our chaos. To help us see both sides are right. Until then, I have built my soapbox big enough to hold others too. Let's blaze this third trail together and begin bringing people back together. If for nothing else than for the sake of God's love to God's people.
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