The Gross Inequality of Generosity

Now we come to what may be the most difficult passage on generosity in the Bible. So difficult, in fact, that the Holy Spirit didn’t remind me of it or highlight it back in January when I took up this year-long study. I don’t think I could have handled it then. A few days ago, while reading the Sermon on the Mount, I tried to breeze through another of Jesus’ “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” sections. But the Spirit stopped me in my tracks.

“This is about generosity!” my heart screamed.

“Oh no,” my mind replied. What do you think?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:38-41

Is there any way this passage isn’t about generosity? Because I don’t like it. My fleshly side is pushing back hard.

We consider
vengeance
a right.

We call it justice, but what we really want when we’re wronged is revenge. We consider vengeance a right, along with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“Eye for an eye,” we say, thinking our biblical reference justifies our anger.

“But I tell you…” Jesus says, freezing us in our tracks. In this passage, He gives three examples of generosity toward an antagonist. An antagonist. That means our opponents, our bullies, our enemies.

Turn the Other Cheek

The image here is that kind of slap such as in the Victorian era, when a man might slap another man with his gloves. It’s talking about insults.

If someone insults you, don’t try to block him/her from doing it again. Allow a second insult without retaliation. What about a third? Or a fourth? Even though we only have two cheeks, I think Jesus would say “yes.” The insults may smart, like the gloves to the face, but they don’t cause permanent injury. We forgive.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

Can I experience repeated insult without retaliation? Can I be generous with my forgiveness and endurance?  This kind of attitude demands extreme humility and equally extreme confidence in one’s identity in Christ such that I don’t have to defend myself or my honor.

Give Him the Shirt Off Your Back

Jewish law prohibited a lender from taking someone’s coat as collateral, even for a short-term loan (NIV Study Bible notes on Matthew 5:40). But they could take the shirt beneath the coat. Jesus said, instead of arguing, give the coat along with the shirt.

Jesus calls us to give
back more than is due.

The contemporary response to being sued is to counter-sue, or before you call in the lawyers, to accuse those who accuse us. Instead, Jesus calls us go beyond dropping the complaint–to give more than is demanded, to make reparations beyond equality, even to the point of personal sacrifice. He calls us to keep peace even if it brings us shame, like walking around shirtless and coatless would shame us.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  –Romans 12:18

Can I be generous with peace-keeping? I’ll need to prioritize peace over my personal needs and even my rights.

Go the Extra Mile

Roman soldiers could force bystanders into service for short periods of time. (Think of Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross in Matthew 27:32). I don’t know how far they could legally force a person to carry their equipment, but imagine someone continuing to walk beside the soldier beyond the legal limit. Imagine the opportunities to talk about one’s faith in that second mile!

Jesus calls us beyond
equality to generosity.

Maybe your boss makes you work late. Maybe your neighbor keeps you out at the mailbox to talk about her problems for half an hour. Maybe your brother buys you a cheap Christmas gift every year. There are many situations in which Jesus pulls us down that second mile, beyond equality to generosity. In those moments, we have incredible freedom to talk about Him.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.  –Proverbs 25:21-22

Can I be generous (with time, money, or effort) in excess? I’ll need to stop keeping score.

Jesus did it, just like Isaiah said He would.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

He didn’t open his mouth. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t accuse. He didn’t return injury for insults. He “went the extra mile” when He prayed for His executioners (Luke 23:34).

Generosity doesn’t discriminate. The bullies, the adversaries, the enemies…they all need to see Jesus in us, too. This is a high, high calling. Honestly, I’m sitting back in my chair right now trying to grasp how my life is going to change with obedience in this area.

Nobody said generosity was going to reflect equality or personal rights and privileges. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. A tough take on Jesus’ idea of generosity, because now more than ever, my #generosity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What about you? Does this passage challenge your idea of generosity? What do you find difficult to swallow here? I’d appreciate your response in the comments below, and I always respond.

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Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

Abraham: Obedience Over Outcome

We’re wired to make plans, to expect results, to accomplish goals. (I think it’s a Western thing, actually.) Our wiring makes it difficult for us to obey God.

God says, “Jump.” We say, “How far?”

God says, “Go.” We say, “Where?”

God says, “Be still.” We say, “Why?”

In every command from Him, there’s an unspoken affirmation: “Trust Me.” But we don’t trust.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of a guy named Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-19). Maybe you’ve heard of him? Continue reading

Obedience is Not My Goal

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a particular way of doing almost everything. They had taken the Old Testament laws and dissected them, working out the best methods and restrictions to ensure they obeyed those laws. Their work led to piles and piles of instructions, details, stipulations, and exceptions. They even had a formula for getting dressed in the morning. If, in your morning ministrations, you skipped one of the prayers or started with the wrong foot, you had to go back and start over. There’s a mindfulness to such deliberateness, but it would have been exhausting—always worrying about prescriptive rules and working to remember every. single. thing. Continue reading

Three Paths We “Walk”

Last week, I wrote about becoming more Christlike as we go through life.

The New Testament often uses the word walk to talk about the process of living. (In fact, the NIV uses “live a life” in place of walk in Colossians 1:10.) There wasn’t space, however, to unpack walk. Today, let’s revisit those verses and consider three paths in which we walk (because in follows walk all three times). Continue reading