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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

That's Radical!

I am overcome with how radically different the gospel is from what we call normal life. I often feel deprived because I have been raised in a "Christianity" that easily said, "Well that is not what Jesus meant." Or, "That is just not realistic." One of the things I hope for in my own life is not to be so dismissive of what Jesus taught simply because it is a hard saying.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Jesus, Matthew 5:38-42.

Now that's a radical teaching. "Don't resist! If someone takes something from you, give them gifts. Give to every beggar and lend freely." That's radically insane, you might say. And I must admit I have no answers, only questions. But I dare not dismissively diminish the challenge of faith Jesus brings here.

That is one reason I love the Desert Fathers and Mothers. I want to share one of their stories that demonstrate following Jesus in these radical words.
"Once robbers came into the monastery and said to one of the elders: We have come to take away everything that is in your cell. And he said: My sons, take all you want. So they took everything they could find in the cell and started off. But they left behind a little bag that was hidden in the cell. The elder picked it up and followed after them, crying out: My sons, take this, you forgot it in the cell! Amazed at the patience of the elder, they brought everything back into his cell and did penance, saying: This one really is a man of God!" The Wisdom of the Desert, Thomas Merton, pg 59.
I love this story. The humility and kindness of the elder as he submits without resistance to the robbers, and then follows through holding back nothing surely shows a life of attentively loving Jesus way. This is radically different than the way I have been taught to spiritualize, explain away, and modify the radical teaching of love. This story also demonstrates the principle expressed by Paul in Romans 2:3-4 "So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" The lack of judgement and the radical kindness of the elder led the robbers to repentance.

I would also like to share the words of a radical prophet of the last century. Motivated by the words of the sermon on the mount, Martin Luther King, espoused a means of social change that was rooted in love. It demonstrated a key understanding of the realities that evil can not be defeated by means of hatred, fear, or retribution, but through the power of love. This is point four of five points explaining non-violent resistance. (You can read all five and more more here.)
"A fourth point that must be brought out concerning the method of nonviolence is that this method not only avoids external physical violence, but also internal violence of the spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. We have learned through the grim realities of life and history that hate and violence solve nothing. Violence begets violence; hate begets hate; and toughness begets toughness. It is all a descending spiral, and the end is destruction — for everybody." Martin Luther King, Jr .
I have not been raised in a form of Christianity that takes seriously the challenges of actually living this kind of radical love that Jesus taught, the desert fathers pursued and that Martin used to challenge the economic and political power of a nation, but I want to learn to walk in Christ's way of love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love even, and maybe most importantly, of our enemies and those who treat us wrongly.

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