Day Thirty Four: Subversive

Psalm 110
Proverbs 22:1-9
Luke 6:27-31

Most of us have, at some time in our lives, heard – sometimes incessantly – the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It’s the golden rule of human interaction; and a definite go-to phrase in most mothers’ “raising children the right way” manual.

So while it was unacceptable for my brother to hit me with his cricket bat, it was really unacceptable for me to respond by hiding it on top of the roof for
it set a bad example,
it reduced me to his level,
and it precluded any potential for change – setting into motion a vicious and escalating cycle of retaliation instead of demonstrating an alternative way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Yet, if you are anything like me, such reasoning seems tremendously unfair and naive.

By young adulthood, we should know enough of human nature to understand that instead of being lauded as “the bigger person,” the do-unto-others-as-you-would- have-them-do-unto-you attitude (as we understand it) often earns us the label of “spineless doormat.”

Yet, if we look more closely at the ideas expressed in both Proverbs and Luke today, we may gain a deeper understanding of our subversive power and purpose in the world: to undermine the kingdom of self and establish the kingdom of God …

… as Christ did.

From the opening line of this portion of his sermon (Luke 6:27-28), Jesus is being subversive. Among most circles, hatred of one’s enemies was regarded as acceptable as long as you did no harm to them. But Jesus commands an unexpected action instead of the socially acceptable inaction:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.”

Instead of limiting harm, Jesus actively promotes goodness and generosity,
service and love for the payoff for such things are “plenty and honour and a satisfying life” (Proverbs 22:4b).

Echoing the sentiment of Proverbs 22:2
“The rich and the poor shake hands as equals — God made them both!”
in each of the culturally-bound examples that Jesus goes on to give, we see too how our reactions to an enemy, a bully, or a tyrant can turn the tables of power: in Roman times offering the other cheek to be slapped would, in fact, force the “perpetrator” to acknowledge you as an equal, rather than a powerless victim; and giving up your tunic to the one who had already taken your coat would render you naked and unprotected from the elements, thus exposing the perpetrator to social censure and legal prosecution.

Within this subversive context, the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is not an expression of a meek (or weak) submissiveness to the actions of others or a commitment to being the bigger person in hope of some future heavenly reward,
but a searching for and sharing of shalom;
a re-orientation of power;
an acknowledgement of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being
and of our own right and desire to be treated as equals – regardless of our race, religion, gender or socioeconomic class etc.

Such work begins not with those that we already see as our equals or our friends, but in those relationships where inequality, conflict and resentment are rife.

Today, be subversive. Do good for someone who hates you (or who you hate). Bless someone who has cursed you. Pray for someone who has used or abused you.


Day Twenty Seven: Extending Family

Psalm 148
Isaiah 49:5-15
Matthew 12:46-50

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy
in each other’s life.
Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
Richard Bach

Maybe it was simply because it was our first Christmas away from home, but this year I found myself particularly aware of distance (both geographical and emotional) in relationships.

As I was talking on the phone to my youngest brother in the United Kingdom, even he remarked, “Well, now you know how it felt for me – that first Christmas in a strange country. Except, you cheated – your whole family moved with you.” 

As I ponder those words “your whole family” in light of today’s texts, I am amazed at how God has enlarged my capacity for love and my experience of joy through the blessing of an extended family accumulated over the years:
a family born not of blood;
but of shared belief and service,
of stories offered and received – some light with laughter,
some heavy yet somehow lightened by the telling;
of conflicts worked through and forgiveness offered;
of – as Richard Bach puts it – respect and joy in each other’s life,
no matter how far away we may be or when last we talked.

What were your thoughts, your feelings about “family” over this sacred season?

Who did you reach out to?
Who reached out to you?
Who did you long to hear from, but didn’t?
Who are you missing?
Who do you feel physically or emotionally distant from at the moment? 

At the height of Jesus‘ ministry, his mother and brothers try to visit him, but the room in which he is teaching is packed with people and there is no easy way for them to gain access to him.

So they send in a messenger with the news that they are waiting to see him; confident that when he hears about their arrival, he will wrap things up quickly to spend time with them.

Instead, what follows is a radical act of inclusion as Jesus stretches his hand out towards his disciples and commands,
“Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother”
Matthew 12:49-50 (The Message).

His declaration may well have hurt or offended the members of his “blood” family as they waited outside for him, yet it is a truly authentic statement for the Son of God-who-nurses-Her-people (Isaiah 49:15).

As we enter into a shared life with God, we enter also into a life shared with people who we may not know very well or (as sometimes sadly happens) who we may not even like very much but to whom we are bound by obedience to the God who has formed us and who uses us to “tell the prisoners, ‘Come out of your prison’” and  “tell those in darkness, ‘Come into the light’” (Isaiah 49:9) …

… and those newly liberated,
new to life in the light,
in turn, become brothers and sisters along life’s journey
for the extension of Christ’s kingdom is not a campaign aimed at conquest
but a grace-filled invitation into an ever extending family
formed by the Father’s own hand,
liberated by the love of the Son,
and held together by the Spirit of Truth who testifies to our belonging.

In looking towards the new year, who are the people that God is calling you …
… to love?
… to forgive?
… to journey more closely alongside?
… to invite into the family?