After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter. With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily. I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place. A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus. I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993. Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,
We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.
We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity. And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable. And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way. It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.
Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation. In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior. These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”
As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights. Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love. Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.” I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
David Benner in his book, Soulful Spirituality, identifies Hildegard von Bingen as one who described herself as a “feather on the breath of God.” I like that.
We are creatures made for both the earth and for heaven and so Benner writes, “Authentic spirituality leaves room for mystery and thus helps us preserve the lightness of being that is our heritage as creatures of dust and breath.”
After reading this section, I thought of the following passages that might be used to support these ideas. Other suggestions?
Abigail explains why David should not kill her fool of a husband, Nabal. “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the LORD your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.” (1 Samuel 25:29 ESV)
Jesus with Nicodemus. “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:5–8 NIV)
One of my favorite passages of the NT from Paul “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
Jacob wrestling with God. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”” (Genesis 32:24–28 ESV)
Paul in Athens “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:23–28 ESV)
NOTE: Following is an update on a previous post.
Does holiness provide refuge or bring condemnation? Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight says, “A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people.”
The world needs holy men and women because it needs people transformed by God.
Isaiah 32:2 says, “Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Thomas writes the following:
A holy man or woman is a spiritual force, a “God oasis,” in a world that needs spiritually strong people. When the winds of turmoil hit, such people become shelters; their faith provides a covering for all. By their words and actions, by the ways they listen and use their eyes to love instead of lust, to honor instead of hate, to build up instead of tear down, holy women and men are like streams of water in the desert, affirming what God values most. When the heat of temptation threatens to tear this world apart, godly men and women become like the shadow of a great rock. These God oases carry Christ to the hurting, to the ignorant, to those in need. They will be sought out–and they will have something to say. 48
and all that it contains
and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1 NET)
If I really believed this verse, then like Mother Teresa, I would say, “I do not refuse him anything.” For Teresa, there could be no slight refusal to do his will. She was captivated and controlled by the words of Jesus, “Not my will but your will be done.” She would write,
Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God has given Himself to us. If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself. I for God and God for me. I live for God and give up my own self, and in this way induce God to live for me.
I disagree that I have to induce God to live for me but her other words are powerful in the above quote. In words foreign to most of us, she would write, “to possess God we must allow Him to possess our soul.” Indeed her life’s labors in the streets of Calcutta would demonstrate that God fully possessed her.
How could she do this? Brian Kolodiejchuk, co-author together with Mother Teresa in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light wrote,
Only this certainty that she was loved unconditionally could have given her enough confidence to abandon herself to God so completely and without reserve.
It was in giving Jesus whatever He asked that she found her deepest and lasting joy; in giving Him joy she found her own joy.
What is even more impressive about Teresa’s giving of all to God was the absence of any personal consolations from God for most of her life. More about this to follow as I move my way through the book. Clearly, for Teresa, it was not about her, not about feeling good or fulfilled. I have a lot to learn from this beloved saint.
It is no coincidence I am sure that my other passage I read yesterday was in 1 Cor 9:15-23 where Paul concludes in v19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
Can’t sleep (having that coffee at 4 pm might have something to do with it) so why not get up and blog. I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing book Outliers, in which he tries to analyze exactly what it is that makes some people successful and others not.Tonight, I finished reading the chapter called, “The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2.” In it, he followed the story of two geniuses, Robert Oppenheimer and Chris Langan–one most people (that have studied science) are familiar with and the other a relative unknown. What struck me is what he said about Chris Langan, someone possessing what some would say is the greatest mental ability of anyone alive today. Why had Langan lived in relative obscurity and been unable to “make it” in academia? Listen to what Gladwell says,
Every experience he had outside his own mind had ended in frustration. He knew he needed to do a better job of navigating the world, but he didn’t know how. . . These were things that others, with lesser minds, could master easily. But that’s because those others had had help along the way, and Chris Langan never had. It wasn’t an excuse. It was a fact. He’d had to make his way alone, and no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses–ever makes it alone. (bold italics not in original quote)
Following the death of one of the monks, Merton reflects on aging and memories of his youth. From A Year with Thomas Merton
If I were wiser, I would not mind, but I am not so sure I am wiser. I have been through more, I have endured a lot of things, perhaps fruitlessly. I do not entirely think that–but it is possible. What shakes me is that–I wish I were that rugby player, vain, vigorous, etc., and could start over again! And yet how absurd. What would I ever do?
Seems like I had a conversation about this earlier in the week. People sometimes assume a level of expertise or maturity or wisdom of us when we get older that may not be necessarily true. Lord, let me embrace both who I am and who I am not and be content with that.