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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Do Unto Others. Very Quickly.

Matthew 5:38-48

You have heard it said: Do unto others... [reply?]

But I say to you I've heard other versions. Let's run through some variations of, "Do Unto Others," very quickly. Not because Jesus would ever say them, but because people do do unto us these ways. Sometimes we do do them unto others.

Here's a Golden Oldie: "Do unto others as they have done unto you, and then do a little more, because it'll deter them from ever thinking about doing it unto you again."

Basic stuff. Your brother steals your toy. You steal his. Then you punch him in the stomach. He'll be deterred in the future. Your other siblings will see you're toy overlord, so they'll think twice. Do unto. And unto again.

So imagine you're living in about 2000 B.C. and a guy from the next tribe steals your cow, so you steal it back and then torch his village. You have restored peace. Word will spread. Sure, it's brutal. But now you're not just a power; you're a superpower.

But around 1700 B.C. King Hammurabi of Babylon, the superpower those days, tires of brutality, and comes up with a new rule. He says, in effect, "Do unto others as they have done unto you." And no more. Hammurabi's code is, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Brilliant. It's such a great idea the Israelites picked it up. It's in Leviticus. Really. (Lev 24:19)

An eye for an eye. Violent, but a huge improvement. Someone pokes you in the eye, you get to poke him in the eye. And no more. Someone knocks out your tooth, you get to knock out one of hers. And no more. Even Steven.

And that works. But. Sometimes you have reconnaissance about what someone might be *about* to do unto you. So, another variation: "Do unto others *before* they do unto you." Preemptive strike.

Winter Olympics makes me think of Tonya Harding. Remember Tonya? Tonya was pretty sure Nancy Kerrigan was the better skater and would win the gold medal, so he had her ex-husband's goons whack Nancy in the knee with a lead pipe. And so was born the sport of full-contact figure skating. Or, as some call it, Ice Hockey.

You've seen little brother eyeing your iPhone. You know he's going to re-program Siri to Japanese and text horrible things to your girlfriend. Time for Operation Bedroom Storm. He will be done unto. Preventatively. Do unto, before.

Another variation: Back when I was working for Texas Instruments, they used to build weapons for the government. Still do. Don't call them calculator nerds. There was a kind of missile weaponry called, and I love this name, "Fire and Forget." Which could also be known as, "Do unto others, then run like you know what." Also known as, "Do unto others as you're walking out the door." Or, "Do unto others when you're driving into really bad cell phone coverage." "Do unto others, and turn off the computer as soon as you hit, Send." Fire and Forget. 

Do unto others... as they've done unto you.
Do unto others... and a little more.
Do unto others... before they do unto you.
Do unto others... and run away, run away, run away.

Which one's been done unto you? Which do you like to use?

They all work. They're so simple even a caveman could understand them. Or your husband. Do unto. Very quickly.

So Jesus isn't saying anything new. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" and, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" Everybody's heard. We know the variations, and we've known them since we got born into a family, or sent to preschool, or got a job, or tried living in a set of rooms or a planet with other humans. We've heard it said. Said it ourselves. Or wished a few. Done unto others in the most effective way we can get away with.

Jesus isn't saying anything complicated with, "You have heard that it was said...." It's what he says next that complicates everything.


"...But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer."

We've heard that, too. But, seriously. Does this sound impractical to anyone else? Dangerous?

"But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer."

It sounds so sweet, in church. But listen carefully when you go out to the parking lot. You'll hear the sound of car locks popping, all around. Might even hear a car alarm if someone hits the wrong button. So embarrassing. No one thinks, "Hark! A car is being burgled!" We think, "Dad can't even operate his *keychain*." Lock the doors, set the alarm, resist. Second nature.

"But I say to you..."

In a country of Second Amendment rights, "do not resist an evildoer," doesn't sound right. It's 2014, for heaven's sake. If you don't stand your ground, evildoers will take it. An eye for an eye? Yup. We've heard that said. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Heard that, too. They're worth some resistance.

"But I say to you..." 

Just doesn't make sense if you see the news. Turn the other cheek? No court is going to convict you if you don't. Pray for persecutors and love them? Sounds soft. You'll never be elected anything talking like that.

"But I say to you." 

It's complicated. We all can think of situations where it's not just *legal* to resist an evildoer, it's illegal *not* to. No one - woman, child, or man - should ever be harmed or abused or treated as anything less than a beloved child of God. Not just morally right, it's divinely right.

"But I say to you..." 

Jesus keeps looping around and I can think of a LOT of reasons why he's wrong. I can think of a lot of situations where love and forgiveness just don't cut it. Where I want to see justice.

"But I say to you..." 
"But I say to you..." 
Enough, already. Jesus complicates everything. It's like he's breaking the rules of nature.

But is what passes for nature's laws the nature of God?


Isaac Newton figured out that for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. He used math, but he could have just watched his kids. Hammurabi said, "An eye for an eye." Equal and opposite. He didn't know it was physics; he just wanted to be fair and balanced. Like the news channel. Equals and opposites simply work whether it's 3 year-olds or solar systems. It's the law.

Until Jesus comes along and breaks it.

"But I say to you..."

Jesus breaks the law. The law of structure and balance. The law holding societies together. The laws of physics and fairness. Jesus breaks the law by *not* reacting equally and opposite. Jesus breaks the law by *not* committing violence, but by resisting the urge to match it. And Jesus practiced what he preached. Denied, persecuted, beaten, whipped, crucified, killed. Seems twisted to think of Jesus as the law-breaker, when all he did was nothing - when every variation of evil was being done unto him. He said to us - and he showed for us - that not even the worst cruelty will ever be the death of God. 

*We* do unto others equally and opposite; 
*God* does unto *us* unequally and crosswise.


Jesus closes with, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Thanks, Jesus, for setting the bar so near.

I know you all love martial arts movies. Bruce Lee, the greatest martial artist on film, was a Kung Fu master who could beat anybody.

Once he was having a very frustrating time fighting against imperfections. He said:

"After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a [little boat]. On the sea I ... got mad at myself and punched the water! ... I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world." He taught, "Be like water."

Maybe you and I can't be like water. But we are baptized in it. God does unto us with flowing streams of love and forgiveness that seem soft and weak. In truth they can penetrate the hardest heads and hearts. And when we pound on them, love splashes relief on our anger, forgiveness rains down mercy on our hurt.

God does unto us very quickly, before we know it. We wear ourselves out pretending to be Jesus's equal or even opposite, but relentlessly he keeps saying unto us, and doing unto us as perfectly as his father in heaven.

When things get out of balance, when we've done all we can do, when we've said all we can say, Jesus speaks as only unflinching love and forgiveness can:

"You keep doing this,
But I say unto you.
But I say unto you.
But I say unto you."