27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This seems impossibly hard. I am to:
- love my enemies
- do good to those who hate me
- bless those who curse me
- offer my other cheek to the one who strikes me
- give my shirt to the one who takes my coat
- give to anyone who begs from me
- never ask for the return of anything stolen from me
- do only to others what I would want them to do to me
It seems an unachievable and ridiculous standard, possibly even dangerous.
What would happen to social order if this ethic was followed? Where is justice in a world where no one ever seeks the return of stolen property? Who will be safe in a world where violence is never opposed? How long will I be able to support myself if I always give something to anyone who begs from me and offer my shirt to someone who steals my coat?
Perhaps one qualifying observation might help. Jesus is not constructing social policy here. He is not crafting government legislation. In fact, he is not even speaking universally to all people.
In introducing these challenging words, Jesus begins by saying,
I say to you that listen.
These precepts are for those who “listen” to Jesus, who hear deep in their hearts the voice of truth speaking in these words. If I am truly listening to the voice of Jesus, I will know how these commands might realistically apply in the particular circumstances of my life.
Underlying all Jesus’ words here is the principle of nonresistance. Nonresistance does not mean doing nothing. But it does mean that, any action I take will emerge from a deep place of openness and awareness (“listening”). Instead of being merely reactive, nonresistance makes it possible for me to respond from that measured place within myself that is the truth of God’s Spirit. This is the path to blessing.