Bread – Payback

April 29, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 29, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Col. 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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We get hurt, we get stepped on, we get insulted, we get harmed, we get laid low. What is our reaction to the person causing this hurt, injury, harm, suppression? Payback.

In a city called Baltimore this week, there have been riots causing destruction throughout the city. A person is possibly seriously injured or killed by the police or just circumstances, and his ethnic brothers throw rocks and bottles at the police and burn down buildings in their own neighborhood. Why? Payback. A fellow officer is injured by a rock and reacts by hitting someone or maybe shooting. Why? Payback.

You hurt me and I’ll hurt you back. Why? Payback.

Probably the hardest command in all of Christianity is contained in our reading from Luke today, where Jesus says essentially the Christian rule of love is this – you hurt me and I love you back. No payback. Why? Because I [Jesus/God] said so.

In case you doubt me, here is the reading: “But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

When we have been saved by God’s mercy alone in spite of our ingratitude, disobedience, and evil, it is only fair to ask us in return to love our neighbor the same way.

However, to be frank obedience to this command is almost impossible for me. If you pull a knife on me, I’ll pull out a gun. If you call me a name, I have a better one for you in my vocabulary. And you know what? I’m willing to be that if I say “If I pulled a knife on you, you would pull a gun on me” would not be far from the truth.

Why is this true? Do we really need what is stolen? Probably not. If our house is burned down, wouldn’t our life in Christ go on in a tent? If we are killed, are we not now with Christ?

So why do we fight fire with fire? Why do we seek payback? I think for the simple reason is that it feels good, to us. “Don’t tread on me” is our ultimate statement of self. It is the ultimate statement of “I am.”

But wait a minute, isn’t there only one “I am” and I am not He?

If you want to see the man reborn in Christ fight the same man with one foot still stuck in the grave of self, one has to look no further than our desire to win, our desire for payback, or desire for justification, our desire for respect. When we say “It is not all about you” what we are often saying is, “But it may be all about me.”

How can we balance what Christ says today in Luke with how we live our lives on a regular basis? We can’t.

And the reason we can’t is that we are either obedient to Christ’s command to love or we are not. And we are not. I am not.

But I am His and at least when I go after payback, there is a part of me which says “George, you know better.” And just this gleam of truth winnowing its way into my conscience sometimes has an effect – sometimes, instead of going after payback, I will sigh and say “Not today.” And in the Holy Spirit, our “not todays” will increase and paybacks will decrease. And when that happens, we know the fools of the world will scoff. But, maybe some will say, “There goes Christ’s ambassador.” And we know what He will say — “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Now that is a payback worth receiving.

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© 2015 GBF

**The Book of Common Prayer lesson omitted today is from the book of Wisdom, which is from a group of writings which some churches do not consider valid at all and others consider useful for teaching but not for doctrine. Because these books are disputed by many in the church, I choose not to include them in Bread.

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