Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Commands of Jesus: Do not resist an evil person

The Commands of Jesus: Do not resist an evil person… (Matt. 5:38-42)

There is a very iconic phrase in this passage, turn the other cheek. We often use this phrase when someone wrongs us. Instead of retaliating, we “turn the other cheek.” Within this passage, there are some hard sayings to follow if we are to take them literally. We are told:
Do not resist an evil person;
When slapped on the right cheek, offer the other cheek as well;
If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well;
If forced (by a soldier) to go one mile (and carry his gear), go with them two miles.
How literally are we to take these verses?
All of these verses describe actions that do not necessarily come naturally to us. Especially the first two. Unprovoked assault prompts resentment and retaliation. This is a clue that the lifestyle of the kingdom is more demanding than the Law of Moses.

We need to keep in mind the command of the Law that Jesus deals with here in verse 38, “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’” This comes from Exodus 21.24. This sounds bloodthirsty but actually had a merciful aspect to it. It was supposed to limit vengeance. It actually was used in practice by putting monetary value to things and compensating for losses.
The first part about resisting an evil person, I’ve seen interpreted as saying, “do not render evil for evil.” Does that make any difference?

Offer your left cheek? Striking someone on the right cheek would have involved a back hand which was twice as insulting at to hit someone with the flat part of the hand. It isn’t very often that we are slapped on the face but often times we are insulted. Jesus is telling us not to resent insults and not to seek retaliation.
The tunic: The tunic was the inner garment made of cotton or linen to be worn as a liner to one’s outer cloak. Barclay says that even the poorest man would have a change of tunics. The cloak was the great, blanket like outer garment of which most Jews would only have one. Read Ex. 22.26-7, the point being that by right a man’s cloak could not be taken permanently from him.
What Jesus was probably saying is Christians do not need to stand upon their rights; they should not dispute their legal rights. They are not as important as acting with integrity…

Go the extra mile – While living in an occupied country, people can (and are) impressed into service (giving food, lodging, horses, assistance…see the Quartering Act of Revolutionary War time). We saw this with Simon of Cyrene. Jews could be impressed into service at any time. Maybe Jesus is saying don’t go a mile with bitter and obvious resentment, go two miles with cheerfulness and with a good attitude. Think of your duty and privilege to be of service to others. When a task is laid on you, even if the task is unreasonable, don’t do it as a grim duty to be resented, do it as a service to be gladly rendered.

Giving – one should lend to those from whom one does not expect to receive repayment, even if it is to one’s enemies.

This teaching comes in the context of not seeking revenge. How does Paul instruct us in regards to revenge?
Read Rom. 12.17-21
This is very similar. Do not repay evil for evil. God is the one who sees injustice and he is the one who will deal justly. Vengeance is His. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Question: How do we live out these simple injunctions when our time is so different than Jesus’? Are there any examples of this you can think of?

We, in America, even as Christians, are so concerned to assert our rights. It seems that Jesus here is saying that the disciple should not necessarily insist on their personal rights. Plus, the true disciple does more than is merely expected. (How often, especially in work or school settings do we do just enough to get by?) We should be freed from society’s low standards of expectation. We should be better than that.

We can get to this stage when we realize that we also are the unworthy ones who have experienced the good things of the gospel of Jesus. We’ve experienced unexpected grace.
Read Luke 6.34-36 to get a sense of what Jesus is asking here.
Read Rom. 5.8-10 (sinners and enemies is how we are described in our pre-Christian life.)
Hopefully these reminders will teach us to rely on God for justice when we’ve been treated unjustly (yet we should work for justice when the people in the margins are treated unjustly, widows, orphans, immigrants). We also realize how counter cultural Jesus’ commands are. Are they worth it? Can we do it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Commands of Jesus: Do not swear an oath at all…

The Commands of Jesus: Do not swear an oath at all…

Jesus begins by summing up a teaching from the OT about swearing by oaths and/or taking vows in the name of the Lord. There are several teachings in the OT about swearing by oaths and taking vows.
Lev. 19.12 - Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
That is, if you swear by the name of the Lord, keep your oath.
Num. 30.2 - When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
Deut. 23.21-23 - If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.
Thus, you can see that an oath or a vow was a very serious, sacred thing. In fact, this is probably what one of the Ten Commandments was talking about (taking the Lord’s name in vain).

What would cause someone to take an oath or make a vow? There are various reasons, such as in judicial situations. But there were other situations that may prompt someone to take a vow.
Jacob made a vow to God that if He performed an act for Jacob, he would serve him.
Gen. 28.20-21 - Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God
David made an oath that he would not rest until he found a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant (Psalm 132.1-3).
The people of Israel made a vow that if God would deliver some of their people who had been captured by a foreign king, they would utterly destroy those people (Num. 21.1-3).
One of the Proverbs talks about the importance of fulfilling your vows and oaths.
Prov. 20:25 - It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.
Some examples of vows that were not well thought out:
Judges 11.30-31 - Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
The result: verses 34-35 - When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”
Herod Antipas, when pleased by the dance of young Salome:
Mark 6:22-25 - The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”… At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The example of a good vow? Hannah and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:10-11).

Why would people make such vows? Often they did so in order to strengthen their resolve to act on a matter. They knew that if they invoked God’s name in front of witnesses, knowing how serious oaths were, they would move heaven and earth to keep their oath or fulfill their vow.

Notice the names invoked when Jesus discusses oaths: heaven, earth, Jerusalem, your head. It seems that, again, religious people were finding ways around the Law. Some people felt that they could get around keeping a vow if they vowed by heaven or by Jerusalem instead of invoking God’s name. They might be serious about keeping a vow, but maybe not that confident. Jesus shows them how silly this is. You still invoke God in your oath in the name of heaven, because Heaven is God’s throne. You still invoke God in your oath in the name of the earth, because the earth is God’s footstool (Isaiah 61.1). If you swear by your own head, you speak against God sovereignty. He is the one who holds the future to your life.

When it comes right down to it, Jesus tells us that oaths and vows are unnecessary. All we need to do is keep our word. Let our yes be our yes. Let our no be our no.
Do you find yourself saying “I promise” after you say you are going to do something? Why? Is it habit? Is it insecurity (you don’t think people believe you)? Is it your past? Do people doubt your word so you feel like you must reinforce your statements with several “I promise” or “I swears”?
Our words should not be frivolous. Especially statements of things we are going to do. We need to be serious in keeping our word. We need to be people that when we say we are going to do something or be somewhere, people know that is what we are going to do and where we will be.
James 5:12 echoes these words of Jesus as well: Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.