Sunday, February 06, 2005

Disciples Know (6)

Disciples Know Not to Play 'Pay Back'
Matthew 5:38-42
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42 TNIV)
You've probably heard the statement at least a hundred times before. It goes something like this:
"Nah, I'm not into reading the Bible. Let me tell you why - cause you can make that book read anyway you want it to read. Yes sir, that's the problem with that book - you can make it say whatever you want it to say."
And you know who makes statements like that, too, don't you? It's almost always someone who hasn't ever really tried to read their Bible very much at all. They're folks who are woefully ignorant of the Bible's teachings. They simply haven't given Scripture a fair shake and as a result, there's precious little the Scripture can do to shake them up.

But the same people will usually go on to tell you what they've been listening to in place of the word.

Christians.

That's right - Christians. You see, a lot of people know very little about Scripture, but many of the same overhear the lives of people who claim to be mastered by the words of the Lord, people who claim to be Christians. And you can take it to the bank - when a believer’s life fundamentally disagrees with what even the world recognizes is basic to life in Christ, those who suffer most are those who are yet to believe. For what they hear when they see the dissonance in Christian’s live becomes to them just another reason not to believe.

And that's just one of the big reasons why every Christian ought to strive to look at the word with a fresh set of eyes everyday. To refuse to rely on what you've "always believed" or "always heard" or have "always been taught," but to depend instead on what the word really says. After all, we don't have to be told what the danger is that ever lurks about - the danger of making the word say what we want it to say. To read into the text what we want it to teach rather than for the text to teach us what it will – which results in a life that is not being substantially changed more into the likeness of Christ.

Take the Biblical expression "eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth," as an example.

Those may sound like very harsh words. They may even sound a bit like: "Don't take anything off of anyone. Get even. Give them what they've given you. Go get yourself some justice. Let 'em have it!"

But that would be to read our human tendencies into the text, rather than allowing the text to instruct our tendencies. For those words, "eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth," were actually penned not to encourage people to take the law into their own hands, but to make sure that just law was carried out in place of personal vengeance. They weren't words of encouragement for personal revenge, but were words of mercy intended to temper people's tendency to "give people what's comin' to 'em and then some." They were actually more like words of mercy than they were words of violence. For their intent was to limit actions like those of violent, hateful Lamech:
"I killed a man for wounding me, a boy for striking me. Sevenfold vengeance for Cain, but seventy-seven fold for Lamech." (Genesis 4:23b-24 NJB)
The disciple of Jesus isn't to be out for a fight when he gets slapped. No, the disciple is so different in character that their response would be more like offering the other cheek for a slap than it would be for "getting their pound of flesh."

The disciple isn't out for a down and out dirty battle when they're sued. No, the disciple is of such a different spirit that it's as if someone wanted to defraud them of the shirt off their back, the disciple would say, "Here, take my coat."

The disciple isn't out measuring the mileage when people shoulder them with burdens that don't belong to them. No, the disciple's response is more like: "Won't you let me carry that a little ways for you?"

And the disciple isn't so attached to material things that they're keeping a constant inventory in their head of what's happening with all their stuff. Instead, they're open-hearted and open-handed and help shoulder the debt of others.

And why are these things so? Because the disciple is someone who isn’t out for personal vengeance on others, but for vindication of the Lord’s way in their own life first.

So where is all of this going? Right here . . .

You see, there's a whole world out there watching the way people who claim to be disciples of Jesus treat people in everyday situations. That same world, based on its observations of what it reads in the lives of Christians, is actively making up its mind as to whether or not to bother with the book Christians claim to base their lives upon. And when Christians fail to rise above the world's way of living and seek "their own justice" just like someone in the word would, don't think the world doesn't notice.

Now you and I know as Christians that the problem really isn't with the read, but with the reader. Our daily challenge as disciples of Christ is to so live as to make our deeds match “the read.” Even, and especially, when it's very costly to us.

So disciple, take the hit and refuse to go after revenge. The next time someone rips you off, don't spend the rest of your life smiling with the thought: "They're time is coming." When you're forced into a subservient role, don't vow to lord it over them when you finally get the chance. The next time it looks like you’re getting the short end of the stick, open your hands and continue to share rather than closing up, hardening up and hording up.

After all, there's not just a world that's watching out there, but the Lord of all this world and more. The Lord is “our” Lord.