“You’re familiar with the old written law ‘love your friend’ and it’s counterpart ‘hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true self, your God-created self.”
Matthew 5:43-45 (The Message)
We talked about this passage in church today and I began to see it in a new light. This has always been kind of a hard concept for me to grasp. In any situation, my mind immediately gravitates towards what I can do to protect myself. How I can prevent myself from getting hurt or caring about someone who’s not going to care about me equally. I would rather remain closed off than allow myself to be vulnerable. I definitely wouldn’t say this leads me to hate my enemies… I don’t even have enemies (not to my knowledge at least). But it does prevent me from loving everyone as fiercely and as freely as possible.
I have always understood the idea of “turning the other cheek” as meaning that if someone hits you once, somehow the right thing to do is to let them hit you again. And I’m sorry but I really just don’t think I’m capable of doing that. But today the real meaning of this was explained to me. This command that God gave was directed towards slaves. When their owners hit them, the law said that it could only be done with the backs of their left hand. So unless they wanted to break the law, after they had hit the slave once (thus causing their face to turn), there was no way to hit them with the back of their left hand again. So by turning the other cheek, you are not turning yourself into the victim. You are not telling your enemy “here, I give you permission to hit me again.” You are destroying your enemy’s power by using wisdom. This is such a humble but effective way of demonstrating Christ’s strength in you.
The earlier part of this passage says this:
“If someone sues you for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. Live generously.”
Matthew 5:40-42 (The Message)
This has everything to do with security, which up until now I didn’t realize was something I was super concerned with. But when I thought about it today, I realized how secure I am in my habit of taking every precaution possible to guard myself. I’ve found that I’m not able to find the same security in relationships (of any type) that a lot of the people I surround myself with do, because I usually don’t allow myself to invest a ton into other people for fear of it not being worth it.
The truth of the matter which triumphs over my fear is that my soul is rooted in Christ. The idea that it’s okay for me to give and not get anything back admittedly still makes me feel anything but comfortable. But my true sense of security comes from Jesus, and He will never leave. I can get a worldly sense of security from people and things, but when those are inevitably taken from me, it shouldn’t matter because they aren’t taking my soul with them.
If someone tries to take the shirt off my back, I am told to also give them my coat. God is not asking me to let myself be taken advantage of, He is telling me to trust Him to provide over anything or anyone else. He knows that in time all worldly things will fade and the only thing I can ever be 100% secure in is my relationship with Him.
It is so easy to misinterpret these things that God asks of us. When I think about it from a self-centered point of view, I think about how impossible it sounds to let those who take advantage of me bring out the best in me. When I think about it in terms of what I believe I need in this life, giving and giving and giving and getting nothing in return seems like a ridiculous thing to do. But when I think about it from a God-centered point of view, I’ve realized that responding in bitterness is like selling a piece of my soul to someone who has wronged me, but responding with wisdom demonstrates that I have incomparable strength through Christ. And when I think about it in terms of eternity, I’ve realized that the greatest security I could ever find is in letting go of my worldly possessions- be they things, people, anxieties- and using the space that frees to fill my life with Christ.