Sometimes, I look through our family photo albums (you do remember photo albums, right?)... and I’m amazed at what I see. Sometimes I can see my parents, or my grandparents, in the images of myself and my children and grandchildren... and my nieces and nephews for that matter. My brother-in-law has often said, “That Ledbetter gene is strong!”
But the fact is... family resemblance can be seen in more than looks! Sometimes our children and grandchildren do things - act in ways - that remind us so much of ourselves that we don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Which brings us to our scripture for today. We’ve been working our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. At times we’ve been grandly receptive to Jesus’ words - and at other times we’ve struggled a bit.
Jesus was not interested in coddling us, or tiptoeing around our fragile sensitivities - we wasn’t bothered by possibly offending us, or placating us in any way. He was intent on pushing us - forcing us to stretch ourselves - to fully engage the Spirit at work with us, as he molds us into the image of Himself.
Jesus’ words for us today, make me wonder: Can people look at my life and see Christ? Can others see God’s fingerprints on my life? Can they catch glimpses of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit, at work in me?
Jesus was teaching his disciples how to act to "be children of your Father in heaven." So how should we act to reflect who we are as children of God?
Jesus said, "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who asks from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." (39-42)
All of this stemming from Jesus’ statement, "do not resist an evil person." Jesus was saying more than “don’t strike back” - he was saying “go above and beyond!” Give more than is demanded or required.
Of course, almost immediately we recoil... I mean, I’m not about to let anyone treat me like a doormat. I have known people who thought that Christians were supposed to do whatever they asked them to.
I’ve actually had people tell me... when I didn’t help them in the way they perceived they needed help: in other words, when I didn’t give em’ what they wanted... they accused me of not being Christian. I had one man tell me because I didn’t think it wise to honor his request, that I wasn’t doing my job. It was my job to just give him what he wanted.
But is that how God acts toward us? No. If God gave me everything I’ve ever wanted I’d be driving a flying car by now! God never promised to give us everything we want... he promised to always be with us, as we pray for (and work for) our daily needs.
Doormats? No way. Jesus’ call for us to go “above and beyond” while also telling us (in Matthew 10:16), “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Wisdom is required - discernment is needed... in order to live like Christ. Jesus was no doormat. He stood up to those who misused God’s Word/Law, and called-out the Pharisees and Scribes - calling them “white-washed tombs” - beautiful and clean on the outside, but filled with decay. He also, cleansed the Temple by overturning the “money changers” tables! He was no doormat.
Of course, just as we talked about last week: Jesus’ words, his teachings, are hard. To turn the other cheek and go the extra mile - it’s not always easy, but I know a lot of people who do it! They put others ahead of self.
It’s difficult to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Sure Jesus did it... but he had a advantage... you know... being the incarnation of God! It is a little harder for us mere mortals.
But what Jesus says next is harder still. He said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." What in the world? The words of Christ just went from difficult to impossible, right?
We will always make mistakes, we’ll never be perfect in the vernacular definition of perfection. But by the grace of God - and with his help - you and I can express moments of perfection: perfection in the way we love. Perfection in the way we treat others, especially those who have no way to repay our kindness.
Perfection in the fact that we can resist the ways of the world, while rising above the knee-jerk reactions of others. Perfection, when we walk in Christ... for when we’re in Christ... God only sees perfection.
Of course, like the children we are... we can resemble and reflect our Heavenly Father’s perfection, even in our imperfection - just as a child resembles their parent. Not a clone; a child. Jesus calls us to do all these difficult things “that [we] may be children of [our] Father in heaven.” “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we (you and I) should be called the children of God!”
Jesus’ point is: are we living in such a way, with deliberate purpose, that reflects God’s love and grace? Are we going above and beyond: praying for those who need our prayers the most, sacrificing our pride and surrendering ourselves to a greater purpose? To God’s purpose... to Christ’s purpose? Are we relying on our own righteousness (which is imperfect) or Christ’s righteousness (which is perfect)?
You and I will always be limited by what we are... we’re only human. But with Christ in our hearts (as we live in him & he lives through us) we can (and will) come to reflect who and Whose we are... and through the power of the Spirit of Christ, we’re empowered to be (and do) more than we could ever possibly hope or imagine.
Lord, help us, to be the people Christ has called us to be.