Bread – Payback

September 25, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 6:1-23; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Matt. 5:38-48; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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There are many hard teachings in Scripture, but the hardest in my opinion involve how we should treat those people who are our enemy. In other words, how as Christians should we “pay back” those who hurt us, both inside the church and outside in the world. All three of our readings today from Scripture address this shortcoming in our Christian walk.

In the first reading, the king of Syria has sent out an army against Elisha because he is tired of Elisha’s messing with his war plans. Elisha’s servant goes outside, sees the army, and panics. In one of the great scenes of the Old Testament, Elisha prays that the servant’s eyes are opened and, when he looks with new eyes, he sees the Lord’s army in the hills, in flaming chariots. Elisha says simply “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16. This is where I love to stop, because it tells me that, when I am surrounded by my enemies, my God surrounds them and will come to my aid. Payback time, right?

Wrong. There is more to the reading. Elisha asks God to blind the Syrian army and then leads the blind army into Samaria, where the Israeli king asks Elisha whether he should kill them all. Elisha says essentially “no, don’t do that.” Instead, Elisha says, “Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 2 Kings 6:22. In other words, feed them and send them home. Pay them back by being nice to them.

Our lesson from 1 Corinthians is Paul writing the church in Corinth about the stupidity of Christians suing other Christians before unbelievers, saying “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” 1 Cor. 6:4 Then Paul essentially asks, why pay them back at all for their wrong, why sue them? “To have lawsuits with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” 1 Cor. 6:7. In other words, when someone cheats you, blow it off! No payback for you. Let them cheat you! So what you have lost money, prestige, position, or power.

Finally, Jesus hits the nail on the head by saying in our third reading today quite simply that “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Matt. 5:38-41

I believe that if I were to cut out part of the Bible as being just wrong (from my worldly perspective), it would be Jesus’ statement today. But, of course, I am in no position to judge what Jesus said. I can either accept it or not. I can either apply it or not. I can either obey it or not.

Why is it so hard for anyone to “forgive and forget.” I know it is hard for me, and I’ll bet it is hard for you. In fact, it is probably close to impossible for me and I’ll bet it is close to being impossible for you too.

Why? I think it is because we think we are king of our dominion, our world, no matter how small or large that might be. It is our rights which are trampled, our money which is stolen, our peace which is compromised, our reputation which is sullied, our status which is at risk, our power which is removed, our position which is compromised. There is one common feature of all this, and that is the word “our.”

If it’s not mine, then what difference does it make if I lose it? I’ll just report the loss and the circumstances to the person who does own it and let them handle it.

So, really, our desire for payback is really a statement that Jesus is really not our king, a statement that what I have is mine and not God’s, an assertion of priority of position and right over another of God’s creatures (as dishonest as that creature might be, for all I know he or she is one of God’s elect as well, just waiting for a undeserved kindness from a Christian to break into his consciousness that the greatest undeserved kindness is what Jesus did for us on the cross).

Our desire for payback is really a statement that we don’t trust God to make it right, that we really don’t trust God’s army on the hill.

In 2 Kings, our reading today ends with this: “And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:23.

Why not? Why didn’t they treat the Israeli’s feeding them and sparing them the sword as a sign of weakness? The ways of the world would say that, if a populace is that passive, then they can be easily overrun.

There is a great mystery here. Great power is shown by not having to exercise it.

When we turn the other cheek, what message is sent to the wrongdoer? Is it that we are weak and easily beat upon? Or is it that we don’t worry, because we have a defender who is stronger? We don’t worry, because those who are with us are greater than those who are against us. We don’t worry because our God is God.

What should we do today when we are struck by our opponent, by our enemy, by someone who intends to do harm to us? What will we do?

I know what I’ll do. If someone hits me, I’ll hit them back, harder, for payback. That is what I will do. That is not what I should do. What I should do is to obey my master, my Lord, and take the blow and maybe more so that I can tell my enemy about a power greater than him or me, so that I can present the gospel without hypocrisy. But what I should do is so against my natural grain, my carnal state, that growing from “should” to “is” will take a power outside myself greater than me. And that is why we have the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

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