Monday, 21 February 2011

Turning the other cheek - going that extra mile...

Yesterday we celebrated the 3rd Sunday before Lent. Because of the way the Church's Calendar is worked out it was the first time we've done so in "Year A" since the present Lectionary came out in 1998. Hope I got that right! - my point is that more often than not, we miss a critical piece of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount as to how people should relate to one another. The Gospel reading was Matthew 5.38-48. It's required reading if we're to do anything about making relationships healthy. Why do we read it so seldom?

I wonder if as a society we've become over-influenced by soap opera, where the story-line is driven by the deliberate creation of misunderstanding. People don't hear what other people are saying - and they don't hang around to listen again or work out what was really intended. Are we any better? The whole of my homily is to be found by clicking here. And this is an excerpt:

... I suspect that many people think I’m supposed to go around “liking” everyone. The Vicar should go about with a smile on his face, spreading goodwill, never taking offence, being agreeable to all. When adverts appear in the Church Times from parishes seeking a new priest, quite commonly they say that he or she should have a good sense of humour. What they rarely say is “should have a good sense of humour, because you’re going to need it!” Maybe they could say “should have a back like the proverbial duck, so that the water and any other mess that occasionally comes your way can readily flow off it.” But actually that’s not what you need - because that would suggest that you’re rather impervious, hardened-up or deaf to what people say. And priests need to be vulnerable - so they can be easily wounded.

If that’s true of clergy, it’s true of lay people too - ordinary Christians trying to get on with lives of loving service. And that’s what today’s Gospel reading is about…

It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount, and in the section we read today you may hear an echo of the Beatitudes with which Jesus begins this so-called sermon:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now Jesus turns his attention to the person who lashes out at you - “strikes you on the right cheek.” It needn’t be physical hurt that’s inflicted - what people say can be even worse. And what do you do about people who always seem to be wanting from you - and never giving - whether it’s wanting something that’s rightfully yours, dragging you along to do something you just don’t feel up to, or borrowing yet again when they could easily go out and buy whatever it is they need for themselves.

Does it ring a bell for you?

When we can’t think of an answer to give, then we can start to feel guilty - and it’s all quite irrational! When we feel that I’ve really done my best and people can’t see it, then we feel hurt. When we feel we’ve just got nothing more to give, then we rightly wonder when someone’s going to give something to me…

What we find in today’s Gospel reading is that those feelings about which we may feel so guilty are nothing new. A first step in facing up to them is simply to admit how I feel.

I’m glad to say that I find myself in a community where there’s lots of support and friendship. We should really value what we have here in this church, this parish, these villages in which we live. Love is the calling of the Christian - that’s what we need, and that’s what we need to share. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The words are in today’s Old Testament reading - on the lips of Moses as the Israelites wandered all that time in the desert, 3,000 years and more ago. “Love your neighbour…” becomes the second great command of Jesus. But remember to love your neighbour as yourself. We need a sense of self-worth if we’re to do the loving properly. We need to be free of hurt, pain and guilt. But because we’re human there are those times when people cause us hurt - and times when we wound other people too. Admit how we feel, and we’ll get a better sense of our own need, our own worth, and how we can respond.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Love your enemies.” That’s tough, but I wonder if the first step is when we have to recognise who we are setting up to be our enemy? When we pray for those we dislike, there are different things to be doing. We have to ask if there is anyone in the first place that we really do dislike; then to ask why; then to explore whether that’s a real cause for feeling that way. Then as we pray we recognise their humanity - and our own. How does our humanity relate to what the Bible tells us about our being made in the image and likeness of God?...

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