Daily Reading & Meditation

Sunday (February 19): Do not return evil for evil

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

38 "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Meditation: If someone insults you or tries to take advantage of you, how do you respond? Do you repay in kind? Jesus approached the question of just retribution with a surprising revelation of God's intention for how we should treat others, especially those who mistreat us. When Jesus spoke about God's law, he did something no one had done before. He gave a new standard based not just on the requirements of justice - giving each their due - but based on the law of grace, love, and freedom.

Law of grace and love
Jesus knew the moral law and its intention better than any jurist or legal expert could imagine. He quoted from the oldest recorded law in the world: If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23-25). Such a law today seems cruel, but it was meant to limit vengeance as a first step towards mercy. This law was not normally taken literally but served as a guide for a judge in a law court for assessing punishment and penalty (see Deuteronomy 19:18).

The Old Testament is full of references to the command that we must be merciful: You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the  LORD (Leviticus 19:18). If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21). Do not say, "I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done" (Proverbs 24:29). Let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults (Lamentations 3:30).

Jesus does something quite remarkable and unheard of. He transforms the law of mercy with grace, forbearance, and loving-kindness. Jesus also makes clear that there is no room for retaliation. We must not only avoid returning evil for evil, but we must seek the good of those who wish us ill. Do you accept insults, as Jesus did, with no resentment or malice? When you are compelled by others to do more than you think you deserve, do you insist on your rights, or do you respond with grace and cheerfulness?

Grace of the Holy Spirit
What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ different from everyone else? What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion? It is grace - treating others, not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated - with loving-kindness and mercy. Only the cross of  Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction. The Lord Jesus suffered insult, abuse, injustice, and death on a cross for our sake. Scripture tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and guilt (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7, I John 1:7, Revelation 1:5). Since God has been merciful towards us through the offering of his Son, Jesus Christ, we in turn are called to be merciful towards our neighbor, even those who cause us grief and harm.

How can we possibly love those who cause us harm or ill-will? With God all things are possible. He gives power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. His love conquers all, even our hurts, fears, prejudices and griefs. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment and gives us the courage to return evil with good. Such love and grace has power to heal and to save from destruction.  Do you know the power and freedom of Christ's redeeming love and mercy?

Perfect - made whole
Was Jesus exaggerating when he said we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)? Jesus' command seems to parallel two passages from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is where God instructed Abraham to "be perfect/blameless" before God (Genesis 17:1). The original meaning of "perfect" in Hebrew and the Aramaic dialect which Jesus spoke is"“completeness"” or"“wholeness" - "not lacking in what is essential."

The second passage that seems to parallel Jesus' expression - "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"-  is the command that God gave to Moses and the people of Israel to "be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2). God created each one of us in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26,27). That is why he calls us to grow in maturity and wholeness so we can truly be like him - a people who loves as he loves and who chooses to do what is good and to reject what is evil (Ephesians 4:13-16).

Freedom and power to love as God loves
God knows our sinfulness and weaknesses better than we do - and he assures us of his love, mercy, and help. That is why he freely gives us his power, strength, and gifts so that we may not lack anything we need to do his will and to live as his sons and daughters (2 Peter 1:3). Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Ask the Holy Spirit to purify and transform you in the image of the Father that you may know and live in the joy and freedom of the Gospel.

"Lord Jesus, your love brings freedom and pardon. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and set my heart ablaze with your love that nothing may make me lose my temper, ruffle my peace, take away my joy, nor make me bitter towards anyone."

Psalm 103:1-4,8,10,12-13 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him.

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: You tear yourself apart by hating, by an anonymous early author from the Greek church

"We have seen how murder is born from anger and adultery from desire. In the same way, the hatred of an enemy is destroyed by the love of friendship. Suppose you have viewed a man as an enemy, yet after a while he has been swayed by your benevolence. You will then love him as a friend. I think that Christ ordered these things not so much for our enemies as for us: not because enemies are fit to be loved by others but because we are not fit to hate anyone. For hatred is the prodigy of dark places. Wherever it resides, it sullies the beauty of sound sense. Therefore not only does Christ order us to love our enemies for the sake of cherishing them but also for the sake of driving away from ourselves what is bad for us. The Mosaic law does not speak about physically hurting your enemy but about hating your enemy. But if you merely hate him, you have hurt yourself more in the spirit than you have hurt him in the flesh. Perhaps you don’t harm him at all by hating him. But you surely tear yourself apart. If then you are benevolent to an enemy, you have rather spared yourself than him. And if you do him a kindness, you benefit yourself more than him." (excerpt from INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 13, The Greek Fathers)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use - please cite: 
copyright (c) 2017 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.  Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers can be found here.

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