Tag Archives: mercy

Dealing with that “love your enemies” verse

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After Jesus tells his listeners (during the Sermon on the Mount) that those who struggle in life are the “blessed,” which really does seem like a strange blessing indeed, he gives them a huge word of encouragement: He tells them they are the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”

Mind you, he is speaking, here, to an oppressed people. Their land is occupied by a mighty and, often, cruel foreign empire.  Many of their own countrymen have ridden the coattails of Roman power right over their heads. Their own religious leaders offer little comfort, instead using oppressive legalism to exert their own power–only adding to the already overwhelming burden of Roman occupation. Jesus’ words must have been either encouraging or downright hard to believe.

I am the salt of the earth?  Really? I thought I was just dung under someone’s foot.

Just when the crowd might have been tempted to congratulation themselves (“He says we are the light of the world!) or see Jesus as siding with them against those nasty Romans, Pharisees, Scribes. and tax collectors, Jesus turns his challenge directly towards them.  He says they have to do an even better job than the Scribes and Pharisees, their own hyper-holy leaders, in being righteous.

What?! Isn’t this the guy who just said we are the light of the world. This is a such a downer message.

For at least 27 verses, Jesus goes on to talk about–what?  Political oppression? Hardships? Life’s difficulties?  No!  He talks about relationships. Relationships!  Is this guy serious?

He challenges his listeners to do a better job in loving others–and he has really weird ideas about who those “others” are. He talks about loving your enemy, doing good to those who hate you, giving up your right to retaliate, allowing people to take advantage of you, treating others the way we want to be treated.

Juliet's balcony. Loving the Enemy

Juliet's balcony. Loving the Enemy. Photo by Vavva

It’s one thing to encourage people today to go the extra mile, smile when you’re down, or overlook insults. We live in a rich society. We have generous rights and legal recourse if we are harmed. But Jesus addresses crowd here whose sons or daughters could be, and often were, enslaved, killed, or imprisoned at a moment’s notice–and they could do nothing about it. These people had nothing close to the rights we know today, and many lived in or on the edge of poverty.  Yet Jesus has the gall to sit there and say it’s not good enough to love your friends and family.  Anyone can do that, Jesus says.  How about loving your enemy? How about loving someone who really doesn’t care about you?  How about loving someone who wishes you harm?

Is that even possible?

I won’t lie. It is totally impossible to me. If someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back.  If they hurt my kids–forget it! Mercy and grace may be in God’s nature, but it’s not always in mine. There are times when I just want justice–not mercy. And there are times when justice is the greater need. But even in oppression, Jesus does not let them, or us, off the hook.  Can oppressed people be guilty of sin? According to Jesus…absolutely. Had his listeners been given the power at that moment to overturn their enemies, would they have behaved with largesse and kindness and generosity towards their former oppressors?  Not likely. They would probably have given the Romans back, in spades, what the Romans had given to them.  And how, then, would they be any different from the Romans, their enemy? How are we?

Jesus doesn’t let us get away with simply exposing the sinfulness and unrighteousness of others. He challenges us to see and deal with our own. It starts with us. It always starts with us.  When we are incapable of love because we are hanging on to our right to retaliate, we must start and end with a dependence on God for the love and forgiveness we cannot give.

Mercy-drenched Morning

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Ever notice the color of things in the morning? Look around at nature before the sun fully rises and washes everything out with its brightness. Cool air, quiet streets, rich hues that you can’t really see during the heat of the day—all serve to clear the cobwebs in your head, especially after a good night’s sleep.

Sienna Morning 1

photo by Kay Johnson

With the morning comes new perspective too. Even Scarlett O’Hara got it right when, faced with increasing pressures, she would say, “But I won’t think about that right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”  Sometimes, tomorrow really is another day, and it pays to wait.

Sienna breezway

photo by Kay Johnson

“Tomorrow” can bring new perspective.  In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes one of her darkest nights—a time of personal agony. For the first time in her life, she prays. For hours, she can only sob and repeat, “Tell me what to do!”  To her great surprise, God answers! And what does God say?

Kathryn of Sienna

“Go to bed, Liz.”

And that’s how she knew it was God. At that moment, going to bed was the wise—and only—choice. It was not a time to make life-altering decisions. It was time to rest and let God hold her heart.

In the book of Lamentations, right in the midst of some really depressing stuff, there is this whisper of hope.

I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

(Lamentations 3:20-23)

Fresh mercies every morning.  I like the sound of that.  I also like the advice God gave Elizabeth Gilbert:  Go to bed!  Such advice is consistent with the character of a God who says, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Go to bed.

Get some rest.

And see with fresh eyes in the mercy-drenched morning.

Sienna sunrise

photo by Kay Johnson

I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,

to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly

for salvation from the Lord.

(Lamentations 3: 24-27)