“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
This scripture is hard. It sounds all nice and fine, …until you consider what it might mean to live it out.
Is Jesus actually wanting us to become doormats to injustice, enablers of evil?
Growing up in the South, I was immersed in Bible-belt culture. From that experience, I carry many blessings and many curses. All cultures carry in them beauty and sin. Southern Bible-belt culture in America is no different.
It was verses like these that reinforced a very passive way of being. Women were supposed to be meek and quiet. We were supposed to go along and get along. I became masterful and accommodating others and making excuses for them.
So this instruction to allow someone who’s taken from you to take even more…
It falls right in line with my upbringing, as a woman raised in the south.
Instead of being raised with boundaries, I was raised to say “Yes” to most any request.
Now, there were the forbidden behaviors. There were things I was not supposed to try or experience, but I was always supposed to be ready to help out. I was always supposed to give more, be more, try more…
Raised in my mother’s home, we were always at church. We were often the last to leave. If something needed doing, we did it. If someone was working, we joined them.
We were not raised to ask the questions:
What do I need? or
How am I doing?
These questions were seen as selfish.
We were supposed to put God and others first.
Attention to self, in the least, was vain at best and selfish at worst.
So reading this verses as a child, I used to imagine myself being robbed:
“If they take my purse, should I offer them my car keys?…”
“Should I reassure them that I wouldn’t pursue or prosecute them?…”
Part of me liked this.
It shows great compassion to look out for another ahead of oneself.
The other part of me couldn’t solve how one could live in this world with behavior like this.
How could I give away everything and be okay?
So as you can imagine, I had a lot of growing up to do. I had to learn that it was not selfish but essential and, in fact, holy to look out for myself. I had to learn that I could not give to others in my emptiness. I had to learn to treat myself with the same compassion with which I would treat others.
And all this growth was pressing against the borders of what I’d understood this scripture to read. Was standing up for myself wrong? Was seeking justice wrong? Was I to allow my abuser to take more?
And I came smack up against the realization that not all advise is for everyone in every season of life. It’s part of the wisdom and wonder of the Bible; there is so much there, contradicting and at times divergent; something for everyone, in every season. But we must allow room for each person to listen for God’s Words to them, through the scripture.
If someone is sinking, you do not push them down
If someone is floating away, you don’t blow a little breeze to give them more velocity.
No, to the sinking one, you give them a hand up.
And to the one about to float away, you grab a hold of them and pull them back down.
These opposite circumstances call for opposite responses. What’s loving in one circumstances would be evil in the other. This is not one-size-fits-all. And the same applied to the Bible.
What I needed was to learn to love and to listen to myself. I needed to learn that I couldn’t love others without first loving myself. I needed to seek justice and speak out.
I was an example of someone who’d taken Jesus’ instructions out of context and missed the point. And it wasn’t just me on my own, but the whole culture I was raised in that had turned some of Jesus’ instructions into prisons that held some down and twisted many up inside.
I had a lot of unlearning to do. I needed to sort through my cultural inheritance – to determine which was healthy and whole and which was destructive.
Paul encourages us in the New Testament to let our words and actions be for the building up of one another. But I had been routinely tearing down myself.
Micah 6:8 is beloved and quoted often: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. But I was slow to do justice, and quick to love mercy. Instead of speaking out against injustice and speaking out for myself, I allowed evils to continue and to take root in those who were quick to take advantage of those more passive, like my childhood self.
Jesus instructs the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more, but I thought that turning the other cheek meant turning a blind eye to sins against me. Instead of saying, “No more,” or “Sin no more” I thought forgiveness meant I had to give endless second chances and continue to put myself in compromising situations.
Now if you were raised more in the school of the world than in southern Bible-belt culture, all of this may sound absurd. But if you were raised in some of this culture, I imagine you may have experienced the way Scripture was sometimes wielded as a way of keeping others down. I imagine you have felt the pains of being twisted up inside by one isolated line of scripture, to the exclusion of all other verses.
And I so I entreat all of us, to be mindful that we read Scripture with an eye for the details but while keeping our peripheral vision. Scripture is to be read and heard, in conversation with other scriptures.
And so now, I can read this verse and begin to hear Jesus’ call for us to not to rush to litigation. I can hear Jesus’ call for us to crack open our hearts in compassion. I can hear Christ’s invitation to surprise those who deserve punishment with unexpected, undeserved grace and mercy. I hear Christ’s reminder that none of us are without sin. I hear Christ’s invitation to treat others with the same mercy and grace, forgiveness and kindness that I have received from God.
Rather than pushing me into a position of self-harming giving. I am more and more able to hear these words of Jesus reminding us not to demonize one another, but to rise up from evil and sin, confronting it with blessing and goodness – praying for those who abuse us, blessing those who curse us. And I do not hear these verses in isolation, but remember Jesus’ prophetic voice in times of evil, Jesus’ voice of truth in times of falsehood, Jesus’ call to righteous actions and just living.
I do not believe Jesus is asking us to be a doormat here. Christ led by example, withdrawing from the crowd who never stopped asking him for more, and spending time alone, in rest and prayer. Even Christ ate and drank and slept during some storms. Even Christ, drew boundaries on where he would and wouldn’t minister, saying he was called first to the children of Israel. Even Christ, asked the comfort of friends in his darkest hours of fear and doubt.
And so let us hear these words of Christ, and remember that we are called to be unique in this world. We have been shown extraordinary mercy. We’ve been given grace upon grace.
May we be a people who like Jesus protect and say “No more” to sin.
May we be a people who work toward justice and healing, turning aside from the desires for revenge.
May we be a people who show the love, forgiveness, and forbearance God has shown us.
May we be a people who surprise – offering a hand up, when every fairness would understand if we instead threw a stone.
May we be a people who have received and therefore give
…extraordinary mercy and surprising grace.