Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Politic of Peculiarity

In the 5th chapter of Luke starting in verse 43 Jesus is recorded as saying, "You have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

It certainly does not take a theologian or an expert in hermeneutics to interpret what Jesus is trying to say here. It is plain as day and something we hear in Sunday school a lot, yet we hardly ever truly observe it. What does loving your enemy actually mean? It might possibly mean that we are our enemy? What if Jesus was dead serious when he said to love our enemy? What does that mean for us? What does that mean for the war in Iraq? What does that mean for our interaction with terrorists groups? What does that mean for civil and human rights issues? What does that mean for the person we split doctrinal hairs with?

In the first testament of Scripture we see the beautiful story of Yahweh's interaction with poor, sorry Israel. Yahweh had called Israel to be a peculiar nation set apart for all the world to see as different. They were to embody the good law of God to the world. They were to enact love upon the nations, with the hope and dream of transforming all they met by their peculiar way of life and their undying, unwavering devotion to their God. However, the sad story is that they wanted to be like all the other nations. They weren't comfortable with peculiarity. They wanted to be ruled by an earthly King; they wanted a temple in which they could worship their God. The rest is theological history.

Fast forward to about 30 AD. Israel had not seen a prophet in about 400 years. They were wondering where their God Yahweh was. They were living under serious Roman imperial tyranny, where they were being completely exploited and taken advantage of. They were under double taxation, which meant they were paying temple tax and imperial tax (and most of the imperial tax was beefed up for the tax collectors benefit). There were laws in place that allowed a Roman Centurion to make a Jewish citizen carry there gear up to a mile. Life was not the best. Israel has it's eyes completely pealed for a Messiah that will bring a military reign and overpower the Empire. They were waiting for a coming king that would scatter their ermines and restore them and their land. So you can only imagine their outrage and shock when Jesus comes onto the scene and powerfully combats their ensnaring questions with answers like, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matt 5:38ff)." Could you just see the expression of the religious leaders?! This was not what they were expecting from a Messiah. Not only were they not expecting it, they were completely not accepting of it.

Unfortunately, the results of such advice were not recorded. We will never know what the Roman soldier's face looked like as a Jewish Christian asked to carry his heavy stuff for another mile. It was the law that they were to only to go a max of 1 mile. The carrier would have been asking the Roman to break the law in order that he might serve him more! How radical is that?!

In the above passage Jesus also urges that if someone tries to steal the coat off your back to give them your cloak as well. If you think this type of thing was a secondary aspect of His gospel, and that it isn't all that important or worth taking serious note of, think again. In the 3rd chapter of Luke John the Baptist comes onto the scene preparing the people for the coming Kingdom. He calls his listeners to repentance. He quotes the prophet Isaiah as he hopefully and confidently declares that all will be made right by the Salvation (Jesus Christ) of God. He angrily urges them not to be confident in their Abrahamic blood line-God doesn't care and doesn't need it. The crowd is compelled to ask what they should do. The very first thing John replies with, the very first thing, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." They must have been thinking, 'that's it?' Give what I have to the poor. Share with my neighbors and community? Take care of the poor? Really? Yes! Really? You mean it's not sending my money to the TV preacher? Or ordering a prayer clothe? Or evening praying the Prayer of Jabez everyday? Coats? I have a bunch of f#$%ing coats! What am I doing with all of them?!

What if we did live peculiar? What if we did love our enemies? What if we did give ourselves and our lives away? Now I know this may seem a little novel (!), but again, what if Jesus was serious when in the 15th chapter of John he says, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Isn't that exactly what He did? Yes, it is.

Shane Claiborne likes to refer to the whole loving your enemy idea as "enemy love." What if our nation showed enemy love to people like Iranian President Ahmadinejad or the late Saddam Hussein. "Oh but Maria, those men represent the pinnacle of evil. They must be disposed of." Unfortunately, you don't have to look very far to find prominent religious leaders echoing my satirical statement. I have to say that the Bible I read communicates that NO ONE is beyond redemption and it is a sin to act out a reality that says otherwise. If the twin towers and 9/11 was the first strike at our cheek, what is it next that we should have done? I don't believe that my ideas are radical. They are not my ideas. I am just reading my Bible and believing what it says.

For further study on what I have written pick up a copy of "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne


Lindsay said...

I really want to read that book... your post today has inspired me to get a copy! I hope we can connect as well!

John Trotter said...

thanks for stopping by my new blog earlier. glad u like.

I did an exegesis on this paper in seminary and it became a really strong them in my life for awhile (now I've moved on, right?? lol). I argued that Jesus was not speaking in hyperbole at all, but this is in fact very literal. It has a lot of ramifications personally and corporately if it isn't exaggerated speech. At the end of the day we can't only be looking out four ourselves. . .that's too human. Great post. I'll read more of your stuff fo sho.

Emily Grace said...

If you ever want to swing by my blog, it's

I don't have the wisdom or way with words like you do. But, hopefully you can enjoy it just the same :)

Lauren Kelly said...

Once again, you ROCK Maria!!!! :)

Sharrie said...

Hey how do I subscribe to your blog? I can't figure it out =b

Maria said...

hey sharrie! Right under my picture it says subscribe to storied. Hit the link for posts as opposed to comments.