Jesus Christ, Public Enemy Number One

Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48

What happens when the solution to our problems no longer works? Honestly, we have to prepare for it because the typical means of dealing with problems, these evils of the world, and so on, it is typically done through violence and fear. What happens when it doesn’t work anymore? Think about it, Jesus himself was public enemy number one. He was hated by the scribes and pharisees, as well as the political authorities of his day. He rattled their cages. He challenged the status quo. He preached this awful message of loving enemies, and yet, he was that person. For it, public enemy number one faces death, death on a cross. Why on earth would be we surprised that we would do the same thing? If we can do it to God, to Jesus, why not get rid of anyone and everything that stands in our way, our enemies. Yet, the message today is to love them.

So where do we begin. We first get rid of anyone with brown skin. We lock up black people. We bar Muslims. We can dump the President. We can get rid of Congress. There’s no need for the Church or any institution for that matter. Now, of course, we can throw in the press and the desire for truth and honesty. Let’s just get rid of everyone and everything that has become an enemy to our way of life. There is so much out there right now trying to open us to a place to look at ourselves and where we need to grow. But then what? When all else is gone, using the image that Jesus uses today, after I hand over my tunic and my cloak as well, I now stand naked, exposed, with no one else to blame for my problems, out of solutions, and after I use both my words and actions to take down the enemy, I’m left with myself and the greatest enemy of all, lying deep within myself, my own hurt and pain that I finally come to realize I can no longer outrun and no longer blame everyone else for in my life. If we’re willing to do it to Jesus, and none of us are innocent in this game, the only one left to destroy so often is myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in his sermon on this very passage said most of us live with “a persistent civil war that wages within”. It becomes the easiest of paths and the path of least resistance when we choose violence and hatred. It does make it easier, though, when we remove God from the scene. It’s the challenge that Leviticus faces in the first reading today. The writer speaks and writes of a God that is distant from the world. It’s so often easier to justify our wrongdoing and the bitterness that we hold onto in our hearts. It is so often that Christ within that tries to rattle all of our cages, moving us to a place of freedom in our lives where we can begin to deal with the injustices of the world and of our country. We mustn’t allow the oppressed and those who feel oppressed become the oppressor in return. If we are not living in that place of freedom ourselves, we so often resort to violence, and no, maybe not always physically, but with our gossip and talking about others behind their back. Violence doesn’t come just in the form of war, but often from our own mouths. That civil war becomes a persistent part of our lives when we desire to move to the place where we can love our enemies rather than destroy.

Paul warns of destroying God’s temple, which I am and you are and the community is, with Christ as the head. Paul warns them about taking advantage of those who may feel oppressed in the community of Corinth and beginning to think that somehow it’s about me and what I want rather than recognizing that we become instruments of God’s grace, a God who works through and with and in us. When we keep God at a distance we can put ourselves in that place of power, a power that is so then often abused and so the war begins of trying to take out anyone that stands in my way. Jesus was public enemy number one and if we’ve done it to him, who’s next? What happens when this solution to our problems, the deep hurt and pain we so often want to hold onto, no longer works, when we find ourselves, as individuals and as country, standing naked before the true God and the world, with no one else to blame for our problems, but now exposed for our own pain. It’s a humbling place to stand when we no longer have to fight that civil war and we can learn to love our enemy.

Sure, there are plenty of enemies in our world and plenty of evil at play. But the journey of faith that Jesus invites us into these weeks, leads us to that place of pain and the place of humility when I can finally begin to see that that damn enemy that I have been fighting all along is right within me, looking for attention and to be loved. Jesus understood first-hand, knowing that he was that enemy to so many, or so they thought. If he teaches us anything, it’s that when we allow ourselves to go to that place of pain and ask ourselves why we do hate and why we even desire to have enemies and what it is about them, we can finally hold the mirror to ourselves, individually and collectively, and realize it’s not a solution that we desire, but rather healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. An alcoholic will always think that alcohol is the solution to his problems, but in the end, it’s a destructive end to himself and others. Hurting people will always think that violence and “getting rid of” is the solution to our problems, but in the end, it’s destructive to ourselves and others. Sure it may give an immediate gratification and stroke our ego, but it’s never a long-term reality of the Kingdom that Jesus preaches.

The civil war will only persist in our lives if we don’t first deal with the enemy within ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to project it onto the world, continuing to hate and to hurt. We must live a life of resistance that heals, a resistance that forgives, a resistance that leads to a deeper love. That is why this gospel stands as one of the most difficult and most challenging that we hear all year. It’s not easy to love people around us sometimes let along those whom we have deemed enemy. It’s a sad way to live our lives when we give into such hate and violence. When we resist the temptation, and it will always be a temptation, to retaliate and exact revenge, we finally move to that place of freedom, free of any oppression in our own lives, to then begin to tackle the real problems that exist. Hate leads to more hate. Violence leads to more violence. It’s time to accept the challenge for all of us to hold that mirror up, with public enemy number one looking back, leading us to a place of love, forgiveness, and healing, first in ourselves and then for the salvation of the world.

Advertisements

Healing Divides

2 Kings 5: 14-17; 2 Tim 2: 8-13; Luke 17: 11-19

So often when we hear these healing stories within the gospels, the physical healing taking place almost becomes somewhat secondary to the spiritual healing that takes place. They appear to be so intertwined with one another. But it’s not just the physically wounded one that Jesus tries to heal. If you look at it from the perspective of God, healing is not limited to just a select few. It’s what causes so much of the tension with Jesus, that this God somehow seems to go beyond the boundaries that have been set by the people. Only by the grace of God will that begin to fall away and hearts begin to expand.

On the part of Israel and his Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus tries to break down their image of who they think God is. They were the chosen people and began to believe it on all levels. They thought somehow the grace of this God was somehow limited to them where everyone else perishes. At times they probably felt that they didn’t even need this God; they had it handled on their own. There’s no doubt that there was contention with the Samaritans. That’s our first hint that this is more than just a physical healing that is going to happen. But the Samaritans as well need healing that goes beyond the physical. They were considered outsiders and often less-than-human, especially one suffering from leprosy. There had to be some feeling, for any of us, that this God had somehow abandoned them. So it all sets the scene for Jesus to bring about healing. For one it is a humbling and for another a raising up. How often does our own pride get in the way, thinking we can do it ourselves?

For Israel, as with Naaman in today’s first reading, there is a need for humility. He too had to get over himself. He just constantly fights with Elisha over what is being asked of him in order to be healed. Again, he had this idea of who God was and couldn’t understand why he was being asked to go into the murky waters of the Jordan to be healed. He couldn’t get over that. He was better than that and was insistent that he deserved better treatment from God. He questioned how this could happen to him in the first place, knowing his place. Yet, there was this one thing that he hated about himself that he couldn’t let go of. But Elisha was persistent as well. Elisha already understands the imminent God.

We see it in his response to the gift Naaman tries to give him. Elisha refuses and not because he somehow doesn’t see himself as being worthy of it. Rather, Elisha knows full well that this healing had nothing to do with him. It was all this God who leads Naaman to the murky waters of the Jordan working within and through him. Elisha the Prophet was an instrument of God’s grace and healing. In turn, Naaman comes through the experience a changed man, humbled by a God manifested in a different way, a new way than he ever could have expected. The very thing he hated about himself becomes the fullness of the grace given by God. Naaman finally opens himself up and God steps into his life.

Yet, there must be an openness on our part if we are going to experience such healing in our lives. We live with such division in our city, our country, and our world, with each side claiming to hold the truth. Yet, they’re all wrong. It’s God who reveals the truth. If we are in need of healing with anything beyond the physical, it’s a healing of God. We have a God problem. Using the imagery that Paul uses today in the second reading, our hearts remain chained. When we close ourselves off to the gospel we remain chained. Here he was in his final days of life, in prison, and yet speaks with such freedom. He has allowed himself to be open to the healing power of God, and even for him, persecutor of the Christians, the boundaries begin to fall away and God expands. Paul stands as a witness to us all of the possibility of conversion in our own lives. When we allow ourselves to be opened in that way, we become agents of change. We become agents of healing as he was and as Elisha was in today’s first reading.

In the time of such division with our politics and beyond, we must seek healing. If we feel we don’t need it, then we pray for an openness to it. We are all in need of healing from the divided lives we often live. It will only be through God that we will find such healing, such reconciliation. We can’t survive much longer as a race if we don’t find a way to seek understanding rather than living in fear and allowing our pride to stand in the way. God desires this healing for us now, at this very moment. As we open ourselves up to this healing, we begin to change the world. We become the agents of change. We become the agents of healing. It’s what this city, this country, and this world need now more than ever and God has us primed for such a healing in this very moment of our lives.