Epiphany 7a – Sunday 20th February 2011
Matthew 5: 38-48
I spent many a happy hour in the run up to Christmas browsing the world wide web for that ideal present for my nearest and dearest. Nearly every virtual checkout assistant asked me if – for a small sum – I’d like my present gift wrapped. Politely, I declined, for I must tell you that I’m something of a fiendishly good present wrapper!
In the middle of February you are perhaps wondering why I am telling you this. This particular thought process was kicked off by reading The Message version of today’s bible reading. Let me share the first part with you:
38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”
“…giftwrap your best coat…”. I like that. What a wonderful image it conjures in the mind. Is it a service your solicitor would provide?
“…make a present of it…” – what would you write on the gift label?
Even though it stimulates our minds in the strangest of ways I like the conclusion to these verses – “Live generously”. We’re used to hearing the phrase ‘give generously’, but when was the last time someone swapped the ‘give’ for ‘live’? And what does it mean to live generously?
Well, my own take on this is it’s a call to not hold back.
Just recently someone asked to me sponsor them for a charity walk for the Meningitis Trust and I tried to be as generous as possible.
At Christmastime, 10cm of snow fell on the day of our Carol Service. After the service, just as I was tucking into mince pies and steaming hot coffee along with the other worshippers, someone came in and said they were stuck in the snow in our car-park and could we give them a push. We dropped everything and immediately went to help.
Someone asked me to write a reference for them the other day for a job interview, and I gave them a glowing report and tribute.
But – you might say – these are the easy things in life. Isn’t it easy to live generously under such circumstances? Of course, you’re right.
That’s why we are reminded so vividly that when someone takes advantage of us it is the moment to practice the servant life. You know, when someone’s being a bit cheeky, or taking a liberty, pushing our patience, it’s time for a pause, a deep breath, a quiet prayer and the audacity to live generously.
You might add to your last remark, but if these people take advantage of us once, what’s to stop them doing it again and again and again? Aren’t the disciples of Jesus an easy target, a push over? Well, I believe that if you show them your God-centred-ness (I love making words up), if we let our light shine, then that witness will be a catalyst for change. I don’t believe Jesus said these things just to get us ripped off and exploited. But by living generously he meant for us to be change makers, for us to make a difference. It’s a call for us to live the servant life, like Jesus lived the servant life. Wise up.
Now, things get a tad more interesting in the second section:
43-47“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I have to admit that I’m the man I am because of Dastardly and Muttley. You know, The Wacky Races. They were THE team. Forget The Ant Hill Mob. Or Professor Pat Pending. Or The Gruesome Twosome. Or Penelope Pitstop. Dastardly and Muttley were the ones I always cheered for.
And my favourite moment was when Muttley did something brave or heroic, and Dastardly would say to him, “What do you want? A medal?” And Muttley would say, “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Fantastic. Forgive me for laughing out loud.
The trouble is, when we do something brave or heroic, we often do it safely – for friends or family. Where’s the risk in that? Where’s the kingdom living in that? What do you want? A medal?
Matthew says, “…grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously…”. That’s the life to live. That’s the possibility we were made for.
I love this passage as it’s one or the most sobering, challenging and wonderful moments that Jesus shares with his disciples. As Nike would say, just do it.
(The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)