Friday, March 23, 2007


Bio: Clarence Jordan, a farmer and biblical scholar, was a prolific writer and experimenter in community. His understanding of the content of Christianity was demonstrated in his Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, an attempt to live in inter-racial harmony and in accordance with the words of Jesus. Taken from a book which offers a contemporary under standing of the teachings of Jesus, this selection * deals with two scriptural passages: “Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smitheth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5.38-39), and “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you” (Matthew 5 :43-44).


"We have seen that Jesus thought of the Mosaic laws as disciplines or steps toward the creation of a new society made up of new people. His proclamation of the kingdom or heaven did not destroy the Law but fulfilled it, just as the fruit of a tree does not destroy the blossom but fulfills it, that is, brings it to its highest culmination. Jesus climaxed this thought by pointing out the stages through which the law of retaliation had passed, and how it finally came to rest in the universal love of the Father’s own heart.

There were four of these steps, each clearly defined and each progressing toward God’s final purpose. First, there was the way of unlimited retaliation; second, that of limited retaliation; third, that of limited love; and fourth, that of unlimited love. Let us seek to discover the meaning of each of these steps on the road from retalia tion to reconciliation."

"The daddy of this idea is the theory that “might makes right.” If one has the power to inflict more in jury than he receives, he has the right to do so. The main thing is to make sure ahead of time that you have more strength than your enemy. Of course, all the while he’ll be making an effort to have more power than you, but it will be a lively contest, even though there might not be any survivors.

It became evident that the end result of this method would be mutual self-destruction. Therefore, a better way was sought, and the law of limited retaliation arose. This principle declared that if one harmed another, “then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (See Exodus 21:23-25; also Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21.) According to this law, if one knocks out one of your eyes, you must not knock out both of his, just one. Or if it’s a tooth, you must not retaliate by knocking out all of his teeth, just one. In other words, limit your retaliation to the exact amount of the injury. Get even, but no more. Do unto others as they do unto you. This is the attitude that characterizes some modern business organizations. The books must exactly bal ance, penny for penny, dollar for dollar. It’s also what many people have in mind when they speak of “justice.” It is the most frequent basis of capital punishment."

"Now limited retaliation is a sight better than unlimited retalia tion, especially if you’re on the receiving end, but Jesus felt that kingdom citizens should go further yet. He said, “You’ve also heard the saying, ‘Take an eye for an eye; take a tooth for a tooth.’ But I’m telling you, never respond with evil. Instead, if somebody slaps you on your right cheek, offer him the other one too. And if anybody wants to drag you into court and take away your shirt, let him have your undershirt. If somebody makes you go a mile for him, go two miles. Give to him who asks of you, and don’t turn your back on anyone who wants a loan” (Matthew 5:38-42, Cotton Patch Version). All this adds up to one thing: Let yourself be imposed upon.

The third stage is that of limited love. This method is prescribed in the Old Testament and is referred to by Jesus when he said, “All of you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Leviticus 19:18). Some devout Jews might have agreed with Jesus that if your neighbor, i.e., another Jew, knocked out your eye or tooth he might possibly be forgiven, but if he were an enemy, i.e., a Gentile, then he should be given the works. The idea was that there had to be some limit to this love and good-will business, and the proper place to draw the line was with your own race. In this way a man could have two standards of righteousness: one in dealing with his kinsmen and another in deal ing with strangers. This is what happens invariably in a bi-racial society when the minority group is fairly large. It is the bulwark of prejudice and is echoed in such cries as “white supremacy” and “Herrenvolk.” It is also manifested in nationalism, which is merely another form of prejudice, and is back of such slogans as “America for the Americans,” not meaning, naturally, the original Americans, the Indians.

To be sure, love, even though limited to one’s own circle, is far superior to retaliation, whether limited or unlimited. But Jesus didn’t feel that even this brought the law to its final goal, or ful fillment. It was making progress, but would not be complete until it arrived at unlimited love. “But I’m telling you, love the outsiders and pray for those who try to do you in, so that you might be sons of your spiritual Father. For he lets his sun rise on both sinners and saints, and he sends rain on both good people and bad. Listen here, if you love only those who love you, what is your advantage?

Don't even scalawags do that much? And if you speak to no one hut your friends, how are you any different? Do not the non-Christians do as much? Now you, you all must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature” (Matthew 5:44-48, Cotton Pate!:

Here Jesus is simply saying that, for kingdom citizens, love must be the basis of all relationships and that it must be applied uni versally, both to one’s race and nation and to those of other races and nations. There must be no double-dealing, no two-facedness, no partiality. Hate has the same effect upon the personality whether its object is friend or foe. Spiritual traffic cannot be halted at the artificial borders of caste or nation.

Some people rise up to say that this just isn’t practical. It might be all right to turn the other cheek to a little baby enemy that can’t hit very hard anyway, but it just won’t work with a big, bad, grown-up enemy who might knock the daylights out of you. Force is the only language some people can understand (and the only language some people can speak!), so you might as well be realistic about the matter. Suppose you try to be nice to everybody and give to those who ask of you and lend to those who borrow and let the guy who takes the shirt off your back have your undershirt, too, and then they take advantage of you. With human nature being what it is, can you go in for this until everybody is willing to live that way?

Then there are people who say that this attitude is very practical and will work if given a chance. They believe that even in the most cruel person there’s a tender spot which will respond to a con tinuous bombardment of love and good will.
Citing many examples from history, they can present a strong case for the effectiveness of non-retaliation and active love. Many of them are willing to back up their belief in this idea with their lives, which within itself is a strong argument.

The truth might be that in its initial stages unlimited love is very impractical. Folks who are determined enough to hold on to it usually wind up on a cross, like Jesus. Their goods get plundered and they get slandered. Persecution is their lot. Surely nobody would be inclined to call this practical. Yet in its final stages, un limited love seems to be the only thing that can possibly make any sense. Crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love seems to be its beginning. Only lie who is foolish enough to lose his life finds it. It’s the grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies that lives.

But Jesus didn’t tell his followers to love their enemies because love would or would not work. The idea probably never occurred to him to raise the question of whether or not it was practical. He told them that they should do it “that they might be Sons of their spiritual Father.” It was quite evident from the sunshine and rain that the Father didn’t limit his love to those who loved him and obeyed him, and it was to be expected that the Son should partake of the Father’s nature. This course of conduct would flow as nat urally from them as it would from him. Being what he is, God can’t help loving all men, regardless of what they are. Even so with God’s sons. Their nature is not determined by the reaction of their enemies, but by their relationship to the Father. So in a way, Chris tians are at the complete mercy of their enemies, since by virtue of their complete surrender to the divine will they no longer have the freedom to cease being what they are. Bound by this higher loyalty, the argument of practicality is irrelevant to them. They do not for the sake of convenience set aside their nature, any more than a minnow transforms itself into a bird when in danger of being swallowed by a bass.

Of course, one does not have to be a son of God. It is purely a voluntary matter, though the choice is the difference between life and death. Yet if one does choose to become a son, then one of the conditions is that you “love the outsiders and pray for those who try to do you in.” Hate is a denial of sonship, because the Father, not having it in his own nature, never transmits it to his offspring. Or if one confines his love to his own circle, he identifies himself not with God, who loves universally, but with the racketeers and pagans, who limit their love to those who love them."

"This is perfect," but that this was the completion of that phase of his ministry. It had come to its desired end. Paul also uses the word in I Corinthians 13:9-10. “For we know by parts and we prophesy by parts, but when that which is complete comes it supersedes that which is partial.” Love, being whole, takes precedence over knowl edge and prophecy, which are incomplete. Paul likens it to reach ing maturity. Love is the adult stage. Without it, people “talk like a baby, think like a baby, act like a baby.” Love is that which makes a man “outgrow childish things” and become mature.

This is almost exactly what Jesus means when he says, “Now you, you all must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature.” To talk about unlimited retaliation is babyish; to speak of limited retaliation is childish; to advocate limited love is adolescent; to practice unlimited love is evidence of maturity. It is the Father’s desire that his sons become adults like himself.

To be perfect, then, really means to quit acting like a child and to grow up. Is this an impossible command or an unreasonable request for Jesus to make of his followers?"

"Without this love, Paul says, it’s like looking at your brother through a trick mirror (“through a glass, darkly”). He appears dis torted and misshapen and maybe inhuman. But with this love, you see him face to face as he really is. Your knowledge of him is no longer in part, but full. You’ll understand him as the Father and the fellowship understand you."

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