Today’s readings are at the core of the message Jesus brought to the world. They articulate the way home to God in simple … clear terms. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These words have rolled over the tongues of preachers for over 2 millennia and yet they still keep coming back to haunt us. They speak to an understanding of the divine that seems to be just out of reach of implementation. Why?
Because, perhaps, ‘love’ is not an easy word to live by when hatred appears to be the focus of the world. Just look at the horrors and atrocities that are in today’s headlines: North Korea and their modern day Hitler; renewed fighting in the Ukraine; death and destruction in the middle east; and closer to home, a growing awareness of our inability to elect a bi-partisan government. Even our seemingly positive victory over marriage equality has it’s dark side, its opponents. And, why? Because we can not seem to ‘get’ how to love our neighbor a ourselves… to love ourselves, first and foremost.
As we really begin to unpack this statement and reflect more deeply on today’s readings questions start to surface. Just who are we being called to love? And, How?
In Mathew’s gospel we are told by Jesus that and ‘eye for an eye’ is not enough ... we must offer no resistance to the one who is evil, to turn the other cheek. But what does that mean in our daily lives? Actually, ‘an eye for an eye’ in the scriptural context seems quite just. It ‘fairly’ meets out punishment that doesn’t go beyond the crime. So, if instance, if someone stole another’s bread they could not be executed for it, or in today’s society, if someone smoked a joint they should not be jailed for 20 years.
But Jesus takes us ones step further and shows us how to become like our Creator God, how to live in the world of duality while being of the divine oneness.
Even pagans in Jesus day were merciful to those who were their friends. We, however, are being asked to love those who are not our friends, who would do us harm. We are being asked to turn the other cheek. Something that in Jesus world did not mean submission but rather showed a silent tribute to dignity and equality. For when you slapped on your right cheek and you turned it to allow the left to be slapped, the only way that one could do this wait can be done is with the back of the hand. In Jesus day this gesture acknowledges equality. By turning the other cheek we allow the “other” to realize our equality. Herein, Jesus asks us to go the extra mile and give more than is required of us so as to open the eyes and ears of those ho would judge us and so as to become perfect.
The psalm today speaks of kindness. Kindness is the heavenly balm that heals all wounds. It is the magical elixir that opens the eyes of those who cannot see and sounds the trumpet that reaches the ears of those who cannot hear. It makes the wise, foolish … fools for the love of God, that unseen divine source just beyond the horizon.
That my dears, brings me to the beginning and the end of holiness and perfection. What Jesus is telling us in today’s readings is that true divinity and holiness, which already resides within us, deep within our hearts, can only be accessed by letting go of our preconceived notions of separation. In so doing we discover that the one who we need to learn to love … to forgive. to cherish and to be kind to us our very own Spirit, that divine spark that fills us with God’s love, that shows us perfection.
Every time we choose to hold on to anger, to stay rooted in hurting others, we are choosing to stay stuck in … asleep to … unaware of the divinity we hold inside.
It isn’t until we choose to let go of righteousness… of indignation … of our limited concept of justice and wisdom and turn it ALL over the God that we can heal from the scars of our own making. Until we empty ourselves of hatred and fear, we cannot love ourselves or the perceived ‘other’. That emptying begins in kindness and compassion.
Who among us hasn’t judged themselves for things that have been done in the name of anger, pride, greed? Or refused to forgive ourselves for just being who we are? Who among us can say I am a perfect image of God’s creation? And, who among us hasn’t heard the saying – “You are your own worst enemy?”
Perfection as Jesus tells us, is ours because we are God’s. With kindness and compassion we begin to glimpse that perfection. As we ‘let go’ of the threads of anger and oppression in ourselves, those threads loosen in others.
When we put down the guns, the swords and the evil words that do so much harm and we stop the cycle of violence, we can begin to see the world as Jesus does with mercy and forgiveness ... with peace. Just imagine what this world would be like if the flower children had been allowed to flower? If we hadn’t give up on ourselves and given in to the aggression of the world?
Perhaps, we could then begin to realize that each of us is holy. That death has lost its sting because resurrection, and thus perfection, requires faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
Don’t be afraid to be holy. Don’t be afraid to let go and be God’s gift. We are tabernacles of the Holy Spirit … It is our birthright.