Epiphany 7C, 2007
Luke 6: 27-35
A Liturgy is also available
A VISION OF RADICAL SOCIAL REVERSAL
I admit it. There are some biblical stories I’d rather not preach on.
And this morning’s story by Luke is one of them.
I don’t like to preach on this story because every time I do,
I get the feeling I am walking on eggshells.
For in every congregation there are people who are fragile
at various points in their lives, and this story
can come like a vicious stomp.
Let me explain.
There are people who hear this story as “Love your rapist.”
Or bless those who screwed up your life so badly
that every relationship you have ever had
has been a painful struggle.
And I have been reminded rather firmly by a female colleague...
“There are women and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent man, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, to turn the other cheek and go back and love him. And some of those women and children are now dead because of that callous and gutless misuse of this story”.
In light of my hesitation and a colleague’s comment,
let me offer this serious suggestion I have learned along the way.
These words of Luke’s Jesus, such as:
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
present the other cheek...
are not addressed to individual people who have been
the victims of cruel abuse. Period.
These words are addressed to those who have power...
The power to take effective action for good or harm
over another person.
They are meaningless if directed to those
who don’t have any power in a situation.
John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says:
“A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness...” (Donahue, 2001, America, online weekly Catholic magazine).
Jesus’ vision of a radical social reversal
was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice.
A call to people to do that good in actual practice...
“not [be] seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who [trusted God]” (Robinson 2002:16).
Some people in our recent past, I believe, have done this superbly.
Martin Luther King Jr's home
was burned down one night by a group of white men
who did not like his message about the equality of the races.
The situation after the fire was extremely dangerous.
African Americans, under the leadership of King
were becoming more confident of themselves,
and less willing to be oppressed and neglected by society.
And they were angry...
Angry about how they had been treated for years by white society.
Angry in particular that night
that their leader's home had been destroyed.
A crowd of King's friends and supporters
gathered outside the shell of the burnt out house.
Some talked of getting guns.
Others talked about getting petrol
and setting fire to the homes of all the white people in the area
so they could suffer as the black people had suffered.
The crowd wanted to hurt those who had hurt them.
They wanted to hurt those who had burned Dr King's home.
They wanted to hurt their enemies.
Indeed they wanted to destroy them.
That night however did not end up that way.
Instead the crowd left their enemies in peace
and they went home determined to win the victory
with votes instead of with guns,
with politics instead of with fire,
with love instead of hate.
One of the things Martin Luther King Jr told the crowd that night was this:
When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people.
Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live
the gospel of radical social reversal.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize recipient,
and chairperson of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
when asked why his country chose to set up the Commission and work the way it did, replied:
'To be human, we have to live in community, we have to restore community and in the end only forgiveness will achieve that. A person is a person through other persons. Your humanity is caught up in my humanity. If you are dehumanised, then inexorably I am dehumanised. For me to be whole, you have to be whole. If you are a perpetrator, a torn and broken human being who has lost your humanity, then I too am less than whole.'
Desmond Tutu is a person who tries to live
the gospel of radical social reversal.
We may not be able to match a King or a Tutu, but we can, and must, give it a go.
On that so-called judgement day that my evangelical friends
often talk about, if there is a question asked, it won’t be:
Why weren’t you a Martin Luther King or a Desmond Tutu?
I think it is more likely to be:
Why didn’t you take the modest risks in your situation
and push yourself to your limit,
to give life to the stranger, to your neighbour?
So what might be Jesus’ word to us today, as were learn
of our own coalition Government’s plans to build a Detention Centre
- a maximum security prison facility including electric fences, 24-hour surveillance, microwave detectors and individual surveillance of all detainees... refugees and asylum seekers who have not been charged with any crime - on Christmas Island?
On Australia Day 2010, the Australian of the Year was Professor Patrick McGorry
"who used his moment in the sun to dump on the systemic brutality of the Howard government's concentration camps for asylum seekers. 'You could almost describe them as factories for producing mental illness and mental disorder', he said, much to the shock of the worthies gathered for his enthronement. 'I've heard some terrible stories and I've seen some lives really shattered by this [former] policy'" (MCarlton. SMH, 30-31 January 2010).
Let me offer these suggestions:
I call you to live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality
that reverses the values of the dominant culture,
especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire.
I invite you to nourish your entire life with integrity.
I seek to empower you with compassion, that you
may indeed live a new kind of life in this world.
Robinson, J. M. 2002. “What Jesus had to say” in R. W. Hoover, (ed) Profiles of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.