theunfamiliarname

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 7A

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Roses sky-rocketed in price last week,
cupids adorned shop-fronts,
there was a rather unexamined use
of a certain four letter word.

“Love”.
St Valentine’s Day brought with it
all the marketing and insincerity you might imagine.

And that word again, “love”.

A term we over-use and under value.
A term we confuse with all sorts of peripheral clutter.

“Love,” this morning Jesus says “your enemy”,
and that rather throws a spanner in the works.

“Love” is something we assume is reserved
for beautiful, intimate,
ideally candle-lit relationships.

Jesus tells us it’s a way of being toward our foes.
We should be as hit between the eyes by that idea
as were those first disciples:  “love your enemies?!
“Love everyone who’s hurt and betrayed you?”

We ended with the exhortation:
“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”,
and it feels like this “love your enemies” stuff
is about as realistic.
Aspirational sure, but really something we can manage?

Jesus starts with the Law:
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

Originally, this was a limitation.
It meant to the early People of God,
“do not take disproportionate revenge”.
No more than an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’.

But we are people of the New Testament,
and Jesus tells us that we should not exact retribution at all:
If anyone strikes us on the right cheek,
offer them the other.
If anyone sues you for the shirt off your back,
give them your cloak as well.
If you’re forced to go one mile, travel another.
And this is not because we are to be doormats,
but because we choose
not to be passive in the face of others’ acts.
In every one of those scenarios,
Jesus speaks of action.

In Jesus’ time, to be struck on the face was an insult.
I suspect it still is, though less common.

To be struck with the left hand –
i.e. on your right cheek – was doubly so.

As in many cultures, the right hand was used for eating,
the left hand, for another bodily function.
So it was a act of humiliation.

To be taken to court itself was a shameful act,
while your cloak was the blanket you slept in.

The occupying Roman soldiers had the right by force
to demand that you carry their equipment one mile.

These are the everyday realities
that these sayings come out of.

All of them humiliations
which Jesus calls us to actively confront.
Not as doormats, but as prophets,
letting such hurt fill us with power rather than poison.

By turning the cheek,
by giving away your basic living garment,
by accompanying the occupying soldier further down the road,
in Jesus’ world you are paradoxically turning
shame and humiliation back on the perpetrator.

But you are making your point in humility,
peaceably, in generosity and in love.

Jesus dares to suggest that God’s love,
not the love of roses and cupids,
but the love of justice and redemption,
that love extends to those who are our foes and abusers.
That is the message of the Cross.

And the challenge is
that our love should similarly be expanded.

Not because that will make us “nice”.
Placid and pliant.
Quite the opposite.
Because that will make us able to recognize the humanity
of those whom hatred dehumanizes.
Because that gives us a power
to confront evil with love.

It’s exactly today’s Gospel
that inspired Te Whiti o Rongomai at Parihaka,
Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King.
Figures who confronted power and violence
with steadfastness and peaceful prophetic power.

We are challenged by Jesus’ words
not to become that which we despise.
Rather to confront in integrity and true love
all that is in need of redemption.

Not to condone behaviour that is ungodly,
not to tolerate abuse,
instead, to take it upon ourselves not to be victims,
but victors in his name,
who took all evil to himself
for our redemption on the Cross.

God grant us love to live for others.
God grant us love to stand firm.
God grant us love that can see
redemption at work.  Amen.