Be Merciful - Reflections 2-21-19

Texts for Sunday February 24, 2019
7th Sunday after Epiphany

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-11
1 Cor 15:35-38,42-50
Luke 6:27-38

I didn't want to ignore the Joseph story so here's brief Genesis note: 
Think of a TV series, or book, or movie that has a remarkable and stunning climax that you never saw coming as the story unfolded. Then imagine you saw or read ONLY the climax. Would it be so climatic? No… it might be a little heartwarming but the actual “ka-pow” of it would be lost without the backstory. I watched a lot of soap operas in my early days, so trust me, you need the backstory! If you want to understand the first lesson, you need to start reading the story of Joseph in Genesis 37 (or watch Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat if you like musicals). Anyway, the story is not as tidy as this section might imply. The family was very rotten to Joseph but he got some of his own zings in before the reconciliation of Genesis 45:15. The whole forgiveness thing needs context. Just saying.

The Gospel is a continuation of last week’s story which ended with the woes for those of us who are well-off in a variety of ways. Jesus is still on the level plain this week, speaking now to “you that listen”.  He talks about a counter-cultural way of life and relationship. 

A couple of thoughts for reflection: 
First, Jesus’ counter-cultural way touches on something that has been a constant in our world across the centuries: violence. Some people have listened to this sermon on the plain and put the concepts into practice. There is a long list of people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. who used non-violent resistance in conflict. 
MLK wrote this:  
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So, it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Non-violent resistance is hard and scary. It tells the truth and that is usually dangerous. James Breech in The Silence of Jesus, writes that Jesus says, “…do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And watch what happens. This is a recipe for destroying the little bundle of lies about myself and my society that came into existence the moment my tribe and I found somebody to hate. Often that little bundle of lies is protected at all cost.

Secondly, let’s look at the phrase “Treat others as you want to be treated” (v.31, CEV). Or “as you would have them do to you” (NRSV). Is Jesus asking us to just be fair in our dealings? You know, tit for tat, quid pro quo, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. 

I’m glad that Jesus went on to explain further. I am just not sure how v.31 fits with turning the other cheek for example. However, I learned* that verses 32, 33, and 34 take a surprising turn when you look at the Greek word used in each. The New Revised Standard Version translates the word “credit” saying 3 times what credit is that to you?  
I always get nervous when it seems that I’m earning credit because of my finely-honed Lutheran suspicion of “works righteousness”.

But when you look at that word used in those three verses in Greek, you find charis which is used for and translated to the English word grace. So, instead of credit, you could say “where’s the grace in that?” about loving, doing good, and lending to the non-enemies to your life. There is no surprise that you would respond and would require very little skin off your nose. Heck, they are your friends; you can count on them to return the favor.  But those the others mentioned earlier, those enemies?  They are not going to return anything good to you so, expect nothing in return.

You getting nothing back from your kindness means they did not merit or earn your treatment of them. That is classic grace. Cool?

With that new twist, in my opinion, the key verse of this section is v. 37: “Be merciful, just as God is merciful”. Mercy is what God pours down on us all the time; we are drenched in God’s mercy because we do things like hate our enemies instead of loving them. Mercy is compassion. Compassion comes out of your gut with love for the other. You can see and hear the other as a human being rather than as an enemy. Compassion is a really tough kind of love that often demands sacrifice and hard work.  

So where do you see God revealed?

* Grace In Action, SALT Lectionary Commentary for 2/24/19

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245