Rev Elaine Julian ‘Love Without Limits’ Sunday Feb 19th


Good News: 

Matthew 5:38-48  The Inclusive Bible

“You’ve heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you’re confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles. Give to those who beg from you. And don’t turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbour – but hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on good and bad alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Don’t tax collectors do as much? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what is so praiseworthy about that? Don’t Gentiles do as much? Therefore be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect.

Reflection: “Hoping Jesus Didn’t Mean It”

Greg Carey is a New Testament scholar and teacher. In a commentary on our passage from the gospel of Matthew, he tells this story:

Stumbling into the kitchen after a long day of work, I put down my groceries and pressed the voice mail button. It was my then 10 year old daughter Erin. “Dad, I’m the lector at church on Sunday, and I have that passage where Jesus says, ‘Turn the other cheek.’ You know that passage, right? Do the other Gospels have that same passage? Is it different in the other Gospels? Could you let me know, because…no offense, Dad, but I think Jesus is wrong.”

I have to admit that I completely get where Erin is coming from, and I suspect I’m not the only one. 

Another scholar Jason Byassee puts it a little more gently, imagining the many ways in which Christians try to blunt these demanding teachings of Jesus so that they actually seem achievable. We look for ways to tame Jesus, to fit him into our worldview, and then we relax and say, “Whew, I was hoping Jesus didn’t mean it!”

There are so many different ways we try to defuse the explosive implications of what Jesus tells his disciples. So many different ways we try to distance ourselves from the demands he makes on us, here in these bodies, here in this world. 

Maybe our first temptation when we hear these words is to explain Jesus’ instructions within the context of his culture and time. For example, it was offensive to be slapped with the back of the right hand, so if you turned the other cheek you could not be slapped that way again. With this explanation, we can breathe a sigh of relief that this teaching is irrelevant to our culture and time.

In a more general way, we defang these teachings by choosing to hear them only in a vaguely spiritual sense. We sing “All you need is love” with the Beatles without giving any serious thought to what that means in our daily lives. We want to minimize the difficulty, and here it actually is important to understand the context in which Jesus tells his followers to love his enemies because they were living in a time of savage persecution. The enemy wasn’t the committee member we disagree with or the unprincipled politician. The enemy they were called to love literally had the power of life and death over them.

Throughout this passage, Jesus quotes the familiar wisdom of the time. He says, “You have heard it was said…” The laws he quotes focus on individual rights and societal boundaries. The first law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” speaks to the right to retaliate when hurt, to inflict equal hurt in return. But Jesus says, “don’t resist”. Whatever is demanded of you, give more. 

Byassee tells another great story about a friend who grew up with missionary parents in a poor village in Brazil. She was asked how they could live amongst these desperately poor people without fear of being robbed, and she replied, “Simple. You can’t own anything anyone would want to steal.”

In one very brief teaching, Jesus demolishes the idea of individual rights: the right to retaliate for mistreatment, and the right to own property. No wonder we hope he didn’t mean it!

And in the next breath, he demolishes all the walls that we build imagining that they will keep us safe. All the us versus them, all the tribal thinking. Love everybody: not just your neighbour, not just those who love you back. Love your enemy, love the people who hurt you and the people who hurt the ones you love.

All of this raises a very legitimate concern: is Jesus asking us to passively accept injustice and violence? Matthew Boulton says no. He says, “The centrepiece of this teaching is noncooperation with harm in all its forms…whenever possible discontinuing arrangements that allow or enable perpetrators to wreak havoc.” The Jesus who tells us to turn the other cheek is also the Jesus who turned over the marketplace tables and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple.

Is Jesus wrong? Is this ornery, implacable, wild Jesus someone we want to follow? Is it even possible to follow him? 

Most of the crowds that listened to Jesus on that mountaintop eventually answered no. In the Lenten weeks to come, we will see how some of them followed him into Jerusalem, into the seat of their enemies’ power, some did not. As the authorities closed in, as it became clear that it was not possible to oppose them, Jesus’ followers drifted away. They vanished into the night until only a few gathered at supper with him in a hidden room, until one disillusioned idealist took the money and ran, until even those closest to him fell asleep as he prayed in agony. In the end, only a handful of women and men followed him to the cross.

It is not possible to tame the Jesus who walked this path and beckons us to follow. We can’t tame him but we can try to follow. We can try because Jesus did mean it, and he lived it. He was the human embodiment of God’s unconditional love. We can try because Jesus shows us and tells us that we absolutely can’t do this thing called life on our own. 

Jesus, and all of Creation, show us that God’s love and justice are for everyone. Creator makes the sun rise and the rain fall on the evil and the good. We can’t be perfect but as children of God we have God’s perfect child as our teacher and our example. We can try, as he did, to love as God loves us, with all our hearts and souls and minds and bodies. 

Let us pray,

God whose love knows no limits and whose embrace extends to all, stir within us a deepening thirst for the love that Jesus taught and embodied, a way of being in right relationship that first respects and honours before anything is expected in return. Amen.


Begin by settling into a comfortable position in your chair. Take a moment to relax your shoulders and let the tension out of your forehead. Take 5 long, slow breaths in and out. Center your awareness on your breathing, and let yourself enjoy a moment of relaxation.

Let’s begin by offering ourselves a blessing. Create an image of yourself in your mind—you as you are now, or maybe you as a small child, and try to cultivate a soft, loving heart toward yourself. Extend grace and love to yourself. Now, imagine yourself cupped in God’s loving, tender hands. Let yourself rest in God’s hands for a moment. (Pause.)

Pray: May I experience God’s love.
May I experience God’s rest.
May I experience God’s peace. (Pause for 5 deep breaths.)

Now, extend the blessing to someone you love. Imagine your partner, a best friend, a sister or brother, or even a child or parent, someone who brings you deep feelings of love, tenderness, and care. Imagine this person in your mind’s eye. Open your heart to this person and extend love and grace toward them. Now, imagine this person cupped in God’s loving, tender hands. Let him or her rest in God’s hands for a moment. (Pause.)

Pray: May they experience God’s love.
May they experience God’s rest.
May they experience God’s peace. (Pause for 5 deep breaths.)

Now comes the hard part! Let us extend our blessing to someone you just don’t get along with. This is someone who causes tension, anger, or negative emotions when you interact with them. Imagine this person in your mind’s eye, and try to hold them gently in your heart, with feelings of benevolence and gentleness. If feelings of anger or tension arise, try to release these feelings to God, by just letting go and opening your heart to set these negative energies free to God’s care. Now, imagine this person cupped in God’s loving, tender hands. Let him or her rest in God’s hands for a moment. (Pause.)

Pray: May they experience God’s love.
May they experience God’s rest.
May they experience God’s peace. (Pause for 5 deep breaths.)

Finally, let us extend God’s blessing to all beings, everywhere. All that is, all that has ever been made, all that is and was and is to come: it is all held by God, sustained by God’s love, and blessed by God’s Spirit. Imagine a beautiful, blue-green earth in your mind, full of plants and animals and so many people, so many beings—and this whole world is in God’s upturned palm. The whole world rests in God.

Pray: May all beings everywhere experience God’s love.
May all beings everywhere experience God’s rest.
May all beings everywhere experience God’s peace.
(Pause for 10-15 deep breaths.)

Emily Eiben is a writer, editor, and translator from Ohio, living in Germany. She is working on her doctorate at the University of Munich (Germany), comparing the Buddhist and Christian ideas of compassion.

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