Cheeky: 7th Sunday OT

The teaching of Jesus about loving enemies and turning the other cheek can be hard to get a grip on. It definitely sounds lofty and idealistic, but how many of us could say we put it into practice in some real and concrete way — say, during the last week?

The first reading is not a situation you probably encountered this week, but it’s still a good starting point. You never had an enemy like Saul was to David. He was trying to kill him, actively trying to murder him! And David knows that Saul is also at war with God. Saul seems to be standing as an obstacle to everything God is trying to accomplish in His plan of salvation. He’s corrupt and wicked and he’s proven himself untrustworthy time and again. Finally David gets a chance to set all this right and save his life.

The scene is this: it’s night. An expeditionary force of three thousand of Saul’s best troops are out to get David. There’s at least a high compliment being paid, if Saul thinks he needs his best three thousand guys just to get one man! The troops are sleeping, and David and his man Abishai sneak into their camp. It’s a risky move but it pays off incredibly: they stumble upon Saul himself, asleep. And as if by divine providence, Saul’s spear is stuck in the ground right next to him.

Have you ever felt like everything was lined up perfectly, so well that it had to be right, it just had to be God’s plan? Have your problems ever been presented with a solution so simple and unexpected and perfect and easy that you felt it had to be God’s will?

Have you ever felt that way and been dead wrong?

It would have been so easy, and it would have solved all his problems, and what’s more, it would have advanced God’s will for Israel. Snatch, lift, plunge, done. The rightful King takes the throne. The tyrant is gone. The Chosen People are back on track. And what are the odds of this moment coming to pass? Surely this is God’s will!

It’s not. (and stop calling me Shirley).

David made his mistakes, to say the least, but not this night. To Abishai’s astonishment and frustration, David paused and remembered God’s basic laws. And he turned away from this answer to all his problems. “Not like this.”

The next morning Saul wakes up with his spear gone and crazy David yelling from the next hill, “come and get it.” This is what theologians call a baller move. David wants Saul to know that he could have, but didn’t. He wants him to know that the reason he didn’t was that there was a higher law, a better way. And it presents Saul with an alternative that fighting and running wouldn’t allow, an invitation: “we can do better than this.”

To quote Captain Malcom Reynolds, “if anyone tries to kill you, you try to kill them right back.” That’s called the fight response. Of course, if that isn’t your thing, or if you’re scared, you can try to run away instead. That’s the flight response. But what do you call what David did? He didn’t hurt, and he didn’t run.

Jesus calls it loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. When we can pull it off, it extends the same invitation David gave to Saul: an invitation to a better way. You hurt me. I can hurt you back and then we’ll go on hurting until somebody’s broken and violence wins. I can run and then… violence wins. Or I can stand my ground, not hurt you back, and invite you to a better way. To not strike back and not give in says, “we can do better than this.”

Have no illusions: it won’t always miraculously bring reconciliation and healing. Saul was impressed, wiped away a little tear, said how very very very sorry he was, and I’ll bet he really meant it. And then pretty soon after that he was trying to kill David again. And… well, read the rest of the Books of Samuel, it doesn’t end pretty. But David still did the right thing and your reward for doing the right thing is that you did the right thing. The right thing is the right thing whether it “works” or not.

Actually, nothing about this is easy and nothing should be expected to work out all pretty and neat. That’s part of the point Jesus is making in this teaching. Sometimes we’re way too quick to give ourselves gold stars for being loving — to the people who are easy to love, the people whom loving comes to us naturally. “What credit is that to you?” Everybody does that. Everybody loves when it feels good. Everybody loves the people they are naturally attracted to and feel a bond with. Everybody is generous when they know it’s probably going to come back on them down the line.

But when someone is hard to love, and you love them anyway, now that’s something special. When helping can’t come back on you, when it maybe won’t even be appreciated, much less returned, when it’s likely to be met with actual hostility and hatred, that’s something special.

I hope no one is currently trying to literally kill you, so how do you put this into practice? At the least dramatic level, let’s start there, think of the people who just bug you. You know what I mean? You don’t hate them, you don’t necessarily even dislike them, maybe they’re awesome people but you’re just somehow like oil and water and they kinda drive you nuts. If you can think of someone like that, take a moment to thank God for them. You know why? Because they are probably helping you get to heaven more than anyone else. I think of some of the saintly writers I’ve read, many of whom lived in religious communities. Sometimes they entered the monastery or convent expecting to be sanctified by hours of blissful serene contemplation. But when they actually started that community religious life, what actually sanctified them was loving Sister Mary Cantankerous and enduring the noises she was making in the pew behind them while they were trying to blissfully serenely contemplate. So to anyone here who feels that way about me: you’re welcome!

It gets more dramatic when people have really hurt you. And more dramatic still when they’ve hurt someone you love. Now we’re talking heroic Christlike love. You can do it. Actually scratch that, you can’t do it but Christ can do it in you. Here’s what you pray: “Jesus, this person is loved by You beyond anything I can imagine, just as I am. You think this person is worth dying for. You know their sins better than anyone, because those sins hurt You far more than they’ve hurt me. Yet You love them. I can’t find love in my heart for them right now, so I give them Yours. I can love them with Your love.”

Because — and this is the final point Jesus makes in this passage — when it’s all over, we’re not so different. We’re going to be side by side asking for mercy. I’m not saying every sin is equally bad — that’s a weird idea you hear sometimes — I am saying that every sin is a sin, and every sin is a big deal. Mercy is the only chance any of us have. So stop condemning if you don’t want to be condemned.

When loving is hard, and these commandments to love your enemy seem impossible, remember that Christ lives in you. That means something! Ask Him to help you look at each person through His eyes, to love them with His love. It’s alright if you can’t do it: Christ can do it in you.

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