Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2; 9-18. Matthew 5:38-48
“You shall be holy, For I the Lord your God am holy.”
“Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
These two lines for our readings this morning – from Leviticus and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – this past week, I thought: What exactly does it mean to be holy? To be perfect as God is?
I came to this conclusion: if we think about holiness and perfection as some sort of personal moral standard we need to be working towards, dedicating our time to a life of trying to attain it….there’s a tendency to compare ourselves to others. It’s like my wrestlers, they compare themselves to other wrestlers to see how well they’re performing, what they’re better at and what they need to improve on.
And holiness and perfection thought of this way…..there’s a tendency to set ourselves apart from others, a tendency to separate ourselves from those who don’t fit into our process of perfection, our standard of holiness.
In other words, we have a tendency to make enemies out of each other.
This past week, I came across an article in USA Today, in which a new poll shows that China has replaced Iran as America’s #1 enemy in the world. And, North Korea is #3 on the list, rapidly closing the gap on both Iran and China at the top of the list.
Now I understand that countries have competing interests and different notions on what is acceptable, right, and good…..but, why in the world is there a poll that keeps tabs on what countries are our greatest enemies in the first place? Doesn’t it seem kind of ridiculous?
But, the more I think about it and what we “Christians” and “the church” tend to do….how different are we? We present standards of holiness and perfection in such a way that sets ourselves and the church apart from others. And in doing that, whether we’re thinking that way or not, we make the world our adversary. We make others who don’t believe or behave as we do, as “Christian,” our enemies.
And such notions of holiness and perfection, we not only make people our enemies, but even loving them becomes self-serving. Jesus’ mandate to “Love our enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” becomes about increasing our standing with God, and in front of others, frankly. But all those people we’re attempting to “love”…..they still remain our enemies. Enemies who threaten us……our beliefs, our values, our traditions, our way of life…….or so we think.
And I wonder if what Jesus is saying in our text today isn’t so much attempt to “love your enemies” but rather – why do you even have enemies in the first place?
A couple years ago, I came across an article in the newspaper. It was a court case in which a 17-year old kid had stolen and trashed 76 year old Sally Packard’s car. Her car was her only mode of transportation…..which she used to go to two places: to her church and to get to her doctor’s appointments. And the car, while an old clunker, worth about $500, was not something she could replace on her present meager income.
On that day in court, Sally had the opportunity to meet this 17-year old kid – who in all ways could be considered HER ENEMY. And as the case was about to start, Sally was allowed to speak to this boy, her enemy, first.
“When we forgive, we don’t deny the hurt that we have received. We don’t deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense.”
Then Sally talked about being a foster mom for about 50 kids, many of them who had been abused and neglected, and how much she empathized with the young man standing before her in court.
“I personally know most of these kids have not been parented, and maybe their parents haven’t either, or maybe they got into the wrong crowd, or got into drugs,” she said. “I would like him to know that I pray for him and the other two boys who were with him daily, and that it is not too late for them,” she continued. “I would also like these boys to think of their own families. Would they want their families to experience what I have?” “Again, please let him know that I sincerely care about him, and I am praying for his redirection and rehabilitation,” she said. “A good life awaits him, if he will just choose a new path. God bless.”
Sally then asked the judge if she could give the young man two stones. One said “Hope,” the other said, “A special prayer for you.” The young man took the stones, and began to sob. “The hurt, I never thought of that,” said the teen. “I’m really sorry. I regret this decision. I’m sorry for all of the hurt that I caused you.”
“I care. Lots of people care about you,” said Sally. Then Sally hugged the boy – who everyone thought was her enemy. The boy squeezed her hard and sobbed.
Everyone in the court were blown away at what they witnessed. And Sally asked if the judge would waive the charges, including the $500 restitution for her car, because she had heard the kid has lost his job and she was fearful he wouldn’t be able to afford it.
After court, the judge was was so moved, she sent an email to the newspaper reporter who then covered the story and noted: “It was the genuine concern and love for this kid who stole her car that blew us all away,” she wrote. “It was a miracle.”
I wonder: why this is such a “miracle?” Is it such a miracle that Sally could extend the hand of grace and love to someone who wronged her – her enemy? Or perhaps the “miracle” is that Sally didn’t see him as an enemy in the first place. Rather, she saw a human being in front of her – and embraced him in love.
It’s this humanity – even in its sin and brokenness – that God loves. In Christ God chooses to see humanity not as God’s enemy, something to be at odds with, but rather…..something to embrace. Something to forgive. Something to love.
And I think if we’re to be holy and perfect as God is, then it’s not so much about attempting to love our enemies….it’s about embracing others in love as God does. That love of course sees the differences we have in each other, and it acknowledges the ways we’re broken and how we hurt each other. But love also looks through those things and sees not an enemy to be at odds with…..but a person. A human being. A child of God.
And maybe we’d do well, both as people and as the church, to embrace people in love rather than see them as enemies who threaten us. If we embraced the world – one that God loves deeply – a bit more, rather than be at odds with it, those looking in at us might see a “miracle” as well…..they’d see through us a God who embraces the world perfectly in love through Christ. And we’d see the same. And I would have a tendency to think…..that having one less enemy these days would be a good thing…….A holy thing. A perfect thing. Amen.