Thursday, March 3, 2011

the formula

I think there is a formula that we've generally bought into, whether consciously or subconsciously, for how our relationships with the people around us work. It goes something like this: I'll treat you how you treat me. If you're nice to me, I'll try to be nice to you. If you're a jerk to me, I have every right to be a jerk right back. If you hurt me, to the degree with which you hurt me, I can hurt you. If you hate me, I can hate you and treat you like dirt.

We even have biblical precedent: "If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe " (Exodus 21:22-25). Never mind that this passage is in reference to injuring a pregnant women during a brawl.

Simple enough, right? It was, until a random Jewish carpenter-turned-rabbi showed up and completely jacked up the formula: "But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do go to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28) 

Now Jesus has said some pretty crazy stuff, but this just doesn't make sense. What happened to "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth"? What happened to "I'll treat you like you treat me"? You're not supposed to love your enemy - that's why they're your enemy! If they punch you in the face, you're not supposed to offer them another shot. If they steal your phone, it would be stupid to hand them your laptop (unless, of course, you're planning on getting the iPad 2).
This whole "loving your enemy" thing just doesn't add up. It's like saying 1+1=5 or something. It's not how we live, it's not how we interact with people in relationships, and it's not how the world works.

Maybe that's exactly the point. In everything that Jesus taught and did, he was introducing a completely new way of being human - a totally different way of living life - that was often upside, backwards, and sideways from the way the world works. Why? Because if we haven't noticed, "our way" isn't working out so well.

Our way, which could be characterized by cliches like "Don't get mad. Get even" and "Revenge is a dish best served cold," has led to centuries upon centuries of violence, hatred, racism and the death of millions of innocent people. Our way led to the invention and spread of nuclear weapons, so that we have the capability of destroying the entire world's population three times over.

Our way can be seen in the gas chamber of Auschwitz, the "Killing Fields" in Cambodia, and the unmarked graves of two world wars. So again, how's "the way the world works" going for us? As Derek Webb writes, "An eye for an eye will never satisfy, until there is nothing left to see."

Jesus' teaching on loving one's enemies and living selflessly isn't simply some invitation to be a doormat for Jesus. It's about completely changing the formula of what it means to live life by replacing hatred, bitterness, violence, and rejection with love, forgiveness, healing, and acceptance. 

What's more, Jesus taught his disciples that every time they loved their enemy, forgave those who hurt them, cared for their neighbor, and accepted the outcaste, they were taking part in something more infectious and powerful than any political movement or revolution ever seen: they were taking part in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus calls us to live in such a way as to transform and change the world around us for the better. Christ lived, taught, and died as though the world was not beyond saving, and that salvation is just as much about living as it is about dying.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, knowing that by loving them, our enemies would cease to exist. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" Christ taught that the poor were rich and blessed in the eyes of God, because if a person's value and significance is no longer measured by how much money they have in their wallet, poverty would be something for the history books. If we truly looked after the needs of others as if they were our own, then everyone would have plenty.

Then, and only then, will we understand the words of Jesus in Luke 17:21 - "Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst."


  1. The economy of Christ's Kingdom is so drastically different from ours, isn't it?

    By the way, I like how you see fit to shed the contrived and inauthentic pseudo-piety the Church is known for. Thanks for your willingness to engage.

    Well done.

  2. If we could see into the secret lives of even our enemies, we would find enough suffering and sorrow there to end all hostilities.
    -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Just a thought, your post made me remember it.