I “followed” the Rabbi of Nazareth for many years. We had hundreds of conversations (all one-sided of course). I knew all about him since I read and studied the auto-biography he didn’t write (have to think about that one).
Speaking of that auto-bio. . .I saw a reference to the Mountain Message (aka, “sermon on the mount”) in Matthew chapter 5. Some very good ethical guidelines there. And, yes, a non-believing secular freethinker can still find a pocketful of wisdom in ancient words. Believers don’t own the copyright.
I came to the famous lines–
“If someone smacks you across the face, let them smack you again.”
“If someone kidnaps you (or your child) and takes you across town, let them take you to the next town.”
“If someone asks you for anything–yes, anything–give it to them, no questions asked.”
(AHV. Authorized Highland Version)
Sound familiar? No? Well, it may help to update these teachings for our time and culture. The shock value is much clearer. . .and more disturbing.
After these amazing instructions, the Teacher on the mountainside (or was it a “level place” as Luke says in chapter 6?–the Apostle forgot to fact check the Spirit here, I guess) shocks his hearers then and now with these even more amazing words:
“Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”
Throughout my years of ministry (esp. chaplaincy) I considered this teaching among the most profound–and profoundly difficult–of all Jesus’ instructions.
But now, on the 2500th reading, it is quite puzzling and even upsetting. He goes on to say that this is about “rewards.” Like getting points for your credit card. “If you love only those who love you, how will you be rewarded for that?” Hmm. “Be better than the IRS agents (tax collectors) and the non-believers (Gentiles)–in fact, he demands, “Be perfect–as God is perfect!”
Here’s the most amazing thing: Jesus is purposely telling people to do the impossible. Think about it. Have you ever known anyone at anytime who actually practiced any of this? In fact, I would dare to say Jesus himself didn’t practice these teachings and neither did God!
They say practice makes perfect. I just don’t see the practice OR the perfection. Do you?
Seems to me the Mountain Man’s Message missed one important element of wisdom: Reason. Is it reasonable (common sense or mentally healthy) to even suggest living by the words of Matthew 5?
Read it for yourself–even if you’ve read it a hundred times (or memorized it as I did back in Bible-believing days). Ask yourself if you’ve ever seen anyone put the words into practice, or if YOU honestly (Honestly) live by these words. I’m not talking about legends of saints and martyrs–the super-believers. Not talking about “Oh, I HOPE to do that someday.” I’m talking about real, daily life, you or me.
Here’s one way to test the truth of these teachings. Make them Real for Today’s World:
Love your enemies. . .
Love your abuser and let him abuse you
Love the thief and let him take what he wants
Love I.S. murderers and pray for them
Love Boko Haram kidnappers when they take your daughters
Love those secular atheists when they “persecute” you by challenging your special privilege
Love people who don’t think or believe like you do (not just “loving” them by praying they’ll think or believe like you)
Love your ENEMIES! (not just people you don’t like or who make you mad–your real Enemies)
Ok, the bottom line: whatever Jesus “meant” by these “lessons,” he was either speaking NONSENSE (for some unknown reason). . .OR. . .he was simply WRONG.
Telling common people to love their tormentors, torturers, abusers and killers, and to forgive them, is especially cruel and anti-compassionate. . .especially when said in the Name of God! If this was merely motivational speaking, it’s crazy to claim it’s inspired.
If Jesus himself really believed these teachings, would he have loved his enemies enough to really forgive them? Wouldn’t he go right to his DAD and say, “Pop, let’s tear down the torture chamber (hell) we built when I was in Holy Boy Scouts and bring ’em all in”?
As I say, there are many great words of wisdom, truth and compassion in the teachings of Jesus.
“Love your enemies” is not one of them.