Hate not! Do not hate! As Christians there is no place or time for us to hate anything at all. In the new earth that our passage from Revelation declares will come, there is no longer hate or enemies.
We live in an age of divisiveness. It has become rare to hear a civil disagreement in the media. I was listening to a CNN broadcast at lunch – just half listening to be sure – but the commentators seemed to be yelling at each other. Was there a rule that they had to speak loudly? I couldn’t hear what they were saying and who was taking which side over the din of their yelling. Was it just an act? If so, why must we be so angry?
We seem to be living in an ocean of anger that has no civic boundaries. Where are the social graces with which we grew up? And anger without social graces and respect for the other quickly turns to hate and fuels itself into greater bouts of anger.
And this media frenzy spills over into the general public. Of late, I’ve more hateful speech than I have in years. Derogatory language is more common. Dehumanizing whole groups is common, such as Muslims (they’re all terrorists) and undocumented immigrants (they’re all criminals).
And this influences how we interact among each other and within our local communities. I’ve heard folks’ anger at the teachers. I am a docent at the Miller-Cory museum. We were there last Sunday in the rain, so our outdoor festival was moved inside. We were all standing around, since we had about a quarter of usual attendance. I was having a friendly chat with another docent about the local elections, when this visitor whom I didn’t know came up and announced if I wanted to know what teachers really made, I should go to such and such a website.
Not only was he intrusive, his anger, which by the way was uninformed, spilled over to myself, a stranger to him.
But as Christians we must rise above this disrespectful and hateful speech and behavior. Anger is a needed energy. I believe it would even occur in the new earth of Revelation. It can motivate us to break out of our routine when something wrong happens. But it is a wild and chaotic energy and if we do not know how to use it, it can become violent and destructive.
Jesus taught us ways to behave that utilizes anger in health ways. I mentioned these in passing last week: turn the other cheek, love your enemies, give more when less is demanded, and walk the second mile.
In each of these cases someone was being victimized. Understandably they would be angry. And typically they had two choices: grin and bear it or strike out violently. Jesus taught that there was a third way … a way to use your anger to transform the situation into a healing event for all.
There’s an old saying, love the sinner and hate the sin that tries to help us to direct our anger towards an act and not dehumanize the sinner. It’s a good saying, but in our present age, we have forgotten it or we refuse to extend our souls to embrace even the one who hates us. That’s what Jesus ultimately called us to do: embrace with love the one who assaults you and who hates you. It is why he was willing to go all the way to the cross …
But it is not an easy calling. How do you love or at least consider the motivations and the need of one who is victimizing you? How do you reach out to a bureaucracy that seems intrusive? How do you turn the other cheek?
It’s not easy … it probably takes a saint … or maybe an angel.
Some ten years ago, I was mugged on my front lawn.
It was a simple robbery. The fellow was on a spree to collect money for the drugs he craved. It was his bad luck that he had crossed into Fanwood from Plainfield unknowingly. We are a small town and the police department is only a couple of blocks from my house.
He knocked me unconscious, but I was told afterwards, that one of our police lieutenants was heading to work and saw him hovering over me. He stopped and called out to him. He took off on a run. It took about 5 minutes for the entire police department to show up… they were all in a meeting with the new chief. Talk about rotten luck for the robber.
They arrested his girlfriend who was strung out on drugs and seemed to be along for the ride. They called out the county canines and found him a few hours later hiding in a garage.
Unfortunately, my youngest who was five years old at the time, was a witness … she had been watching me clean out the car from inside the house. A police office who was the liaison with the schools interviewed her.
Eventually I was asked to witness against the robber at the court house in Elizabeth. This I did and since he was charged and convicted on a crime spree he was given 30 years in the state prison system. He’s still there.
While all of this was unfolding, I literally had to think on turning the other cheek. My assaulter broke my jaw, so here’s a literal case.
In Matthew (5:39) Jesus says, “… if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …” (Luke leaves out “right”). Remember most people in Jesus’ time were right handed. To hit someone on the right cheek with your right hand requires a back-handed slap … the sort of punishment meted out by a superior to an inferior… it frequently resulted in the victim struck to the ground.
So you are lying on the ground and if you are conscious you are probably angry. But turning the other cheek requires you to get up and face your victimizer and challenge him to do it again. Now your anger is not used to assault your assaulter. It’s used to challenge him to consider what he has done. It’s dangerous. It’s hard. And it’s probably going to make your assaulter even angrier. But the people watching are getting it.
But in my case I was out for the round … so how could I turn the other cheek.
I knew my attacker was a drug addict. I talked to someone I knew who did worked with the parole board and asked if he would get treatment. The answer was he’s supposed to … but he wouldn’t have a problem getting drugs in the prison. How sad … for him and for us.
And I have ever since wondered if I had chosen to be a prison chaplain, what I would do if I encountered him.
But you know I don’t hate the man. I feel sorry for him, that his life was lived to such a waste. I feel sorry that his upbringing and living was in terrible circumstances … he comes from the inner city.
I do believe that none of that was an excuse for what he did … I was not the only person he attacked that day. But still I can’t generate anger at him. But I do have anger at a society that leaves so many people … so many children … in situations where their lives are surrounded by violence and drugs and hate, so much so that they know virtually nothing else. They don’t know to love and to care and to respect others.
But maybe that’s how we can turn the other cheek … by advocating for these lost souls.
It’s hard to do what Jesus wants us to do. It demands a great deal of spiritual energy. It demands exhausting and draining empathy for dangerous people. But maybe we need to do that as Christians.
Someone needs to. Someone needs to stand above the yelling and screaming and the violence and the despair and feel for the other.
Someone needs to consider the needs and desires of those who we are angry at and those whom so many hate. Someone needs to stand for those who are selfish, for those who are taking advantage of others, for those who cannot relate to others, for those who are misguided. Someone needs to help them out of their soul killing way.
And I think Jesus expected that to be us. And if we don’t there will never be a new earth and a new heaven.
Think about it.
God’s grace and love be with you …