The Sword That Heals
“The Sword That Heals”
Rev. Amy Morgan
Feb. 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.
8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.
10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
11 I will provide for you there-- since there are five more years of famine to come-- so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'
And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Goodloe Sutton gained sudden and international notoriety earlier this month. In his small-town Alabama newspaper, he published an opinion piece entitled “Klan needs to ride again.” Widely denounced by every major media outlet, Sutton’s piece stated that the Ku Klux Klan needs to “night ride again” against Democrats who “are plotting to raise taxes in the state.”
The backlash against this piece was swift and vehement. Alabama senators called for Sutton to apologize and resign his position. The University of Southern Mississippi, where Sutton had been inducted into the school’s Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame, has stripped Sutton of that honor.
Goodloe Sutton has made himself the enemy of the masses. He’s the kind of person we love to hate. He fits our every stereotype of a small-town racist. We have all kinds of choice words, harsh judgments, and unkind names for him.
Does he deserve all this? The media attention? The social media vitriol?
Maybe. Sure. Yes, perhaps he deserves what he is getting. Absolutely. 100%. This kind of dangerous rhetoric cannot be tolerated and should be swiftly punished.
And right when we reach that definitive conclusion, Jesus’ words from his Sermon on the Plain hit us like a jump kick to the chest. Love your enemies? You’ve got to be kidding me. Not this guy. Anybody but this guy.
Love your enemies. Bless them when they curse you and call for you to be lynched.
This guy. You’ve got to be kidding me.
Almost every major world religion has some version of what has come to be known as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Baha’i faith teaches: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. Buddhism instructs its adherents: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. The Prophet Muhammad said: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. In the Jewish Talmud, Rabbi Hillel says: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Even Greek poets like Philo and Homer articulated a version of the Golden Rule.
It’s such a simple thing. Such a simple rule. Not terribly difficult to follow for the most part. Step 1) Think about yourself. We’re good at that. Step 2) Think about what you’re going to do or say to another person. That’s a bit more difficult, but really not so hard. Step 3) Decide if that’s something you’d like someone else to do or say to you. Step 4) If it is something you would like, go ahead and do it. If it’s not, choose a different course of action. This is super simple.
But Jesus, as he often does, takes this to a whole new level. He introduces the Golden Rule on steroids. It’s one thing to apply the Golden Rule to our friends, family, and like-minded acquaintances. We can be good to good people. But Jesus insists we go way beyond that. Love our enemies; bless those who curse us; pray for those who abuse us.
If Jesus’ beefed-up Golden Rule sounds challenging to us today, it sounded even more radical to his first-century audience. Transactional relationships were the heart and soul of Greek society in the first century. You would lend money and do nice things only for people of similar social status, because those were the people who could afford to pay you back. Occasionally, you might be generous toward someone of lower status. But that generosity came with the expectation that your patronage would be repaid in loyalty or service. The relationship was still strictly transactional.
In truth, our relationships are not much less transactional today. We may not have strict social codes that guide our relational transactions, but we have plenty of social influences that encourage very similar behaviors.
Basically, those people who assist us in achieving our desires – whether those desires are social, political, financial, emotional, or even spiritual – are called our friends. We treat them well because we have something to gain from the relationship. And those who interfere with those desires are our enemies. We judge them and say mean things about them because we don’t care what they think. They’re no help to us and never will be so they don’t matter.
The week following the international uproar over Goodloe Sutton’s KKK article, the front page of his paper was covered with notes from those who agreed with him and praised his courage. He told numerous interviewers that he didn’t care about his detractors and what they thought of him. His friends are like-minded white supremacists. His enemies are minorities and liberals. He treats his friends as he’d like to be treated. He dehumanizes his enemies.
Jesus radically alters the terms of our relationship transactions. He sets up a relational economy with abundance at its core. The fundamental assumption is that we will always have more to give. More love. More clothing. More blessings. More cheeks. More mercy and forgiveness. More of everything. There will always be enough. That’s the only way this economy works.
And that is why it doesn’t work very well for us. We live in a relational economy built on fear and suspicion. We’re taught to guard our hearts against those who are out to break them. We avoid emotional vampires who suck all the energy out of us and don’t fill us up in return. We feel like everyone wants something from us and there’s just not enough of us to go around.
There’s a sign I’ve noticed in several kitschy shops that reads, “I can only please one person a day. Today is not your day, and tomorrow doesn’t look good either.” We feel we must reserve our love, our blessing, our gifts, our vulnerability, our mercy and forgiveness for those who deserve it, for those who can return it. Because there just isn’t enough. We’ll get drained. Burned out. Overwhelmed. We’ll end up on the losing end of our relational transactions.
And that is why Jesus’ extreme Golden Rule, this Good News, sounds like bad advice.
It has, for certain, been used as bad advice throughout the centuries of the church’s proclamation of Good News. It is bad advice when we use this teaching to instruct women to submit to abusive husbands. It is bad advice when we encourage people living in poverty to give money to a millionaire pastor so that they can receive their great reward. It is bad advice when we encourage the oppressed to passively accept their situation and focus on life everlasting.
But isn’t that what this passage is saying? Absolutely not. This passage in no way advocates for passive acceptance of abuse, usury, or oppression. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to resist abuse, usury, and oppression with the most powerful weapon that exists anywhere in the universe: love.
This may sound like a weak, naïve approach to resisting evil. But love has been demonstrated to be an extremely effective and powerful weapon. Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated for loving our enemies in their strategy of non-violent resistance, not simply for moral or ethical reasons, but because it is, as King said, “a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
Jesus, the one who came, as he says in Matthew’s gospel, “not to bring peace, but a sword,” is teaching his disciples about that sword that heals, the weapon that is most effective in the fight against evil.
Gandhi and King both knew that the enemy they were fighting was not the British government or White Supremacists. They were fighting ideas. Imperialism. Racism. Nationalism. Classism. When an -ism takes something from you, when it inflicts pain and ridicule, when it obstructs your dreams and opportunity, you can’t fight it with a fist or a lawsuit or a curse. You may win some battles, but you will lose that war.
Gandhi and King and those who followed them knew that love is more effective than hatred at extinguishing hatred. Love is the only weapon that can win against ideas and -isms. Numerous studies have shown that nonviolence is exponentially more effective than violence in attaining desirable outcomes, with nonviolent resistance movements achieving partial or full success nearly 90% of the time.
Gandhi and King were moral and ethical and spiritual, sure. But they were also practical and strategic.
And so was Jesus. When he told us to love our enemies, to give and bless and expect nothing in return, he was laying the practical groundwork for the reign of God. He was offering a path to peace and joy and righteousness in this life, not just a means of chalking up brownie points for heaven. He was advocating for an ethic of generosity that would serve our best interests in the here and now.
When we read about the hate and bigotry and racism of people like Goodloe Sutton, it is easy to wish he would listen to the words of Jesus. We wish he would love his enemies. The opinion pieces and even news stories he’s published over the years reveal a deep enmity toward Democrats, African-Americans, Jews, people in the LGBT community, and other minorities.
But the media and the politicians and the public outcry are not calling for him to love his enemies. They are calling for him to be censured, punished, removed from his sphere of influence. They want retribution. They want to strike back against this ugliness.
And so do we. Because Goodloe Sutton is being clearly portrayed as the enemy of progress, inclusion, peace, truth. He is our enemy.
And Goodloe Sutton has heard that message loud and clear. He has been bombarded with calls from reporters and received hate mail and had subscriptions canceled. He knows he is the enemy. And our collective anger and hatred have only made him dig in his heels. He’s defended his opinion with even more offensive and dangerous rhetoric than what he printed in the original article. Hating this enemy has not been effective in changing him or the culture that created him.
Loving Goodloe Sutton, and others like him, may feel like too much to ask. The history of racism and violence against minorities is so painful. Sutton’s words are like a slap in the face to any small amount of progress we’ve made in this country since the KKK terrorized black communities with relative impunity.
We are happy to love those who have been hurt by people like Goodloe Sutton. They need it. They deserve it. Goodloe Sutton doesn’t deserve one bit of our love.
The truth is, we’re afraid to love our enemies. We’re afraid our love will condone their behavior, empower them, encourage them. We’re afraid our love will align us with their misdeeds. We’re afraid our love will exonerate them.
But Jesus promises this is not the outcome. Jesus promises great reward, acceptance into the family of God, overflowing goodness. Because Jesus knows the abundance of the commonwealth of heaven. Jesus knows the power of the sword that heals.
And Jesus knows the wideness of God’s mercy. He points out that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. The ungrateful and wicked Goodloe Sutton. And the ungrateful and wicked you and me. He says, “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Because God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, we can receive that great reward, we can be called children of the Most High. God’s kindness to us, God’s mercy to us, is what enables us to love our enemies, to love people like Goodloe Sutton, to love people like ourselves.
Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer comes in the form of a parable, about a man who shows love to an enemy. This is Jesus’ definition of neighbor. This is how we fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” says Jesus. Mercy doesn’t mean tolerance or acceptance or complicity. Mercy means we know and name and own the evil we experience. And we choose to drive out hate with love. We choose to use the sword that heals. We choose a more effective way to resist evil. We choose to participate in the reign of God on earth.
This is not easy. It is not fun. It does not feel good. It is not our natural inclination. It feels like bad advice.
But it is good news. It is the Good News. That while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ. God loved us, while we were God’s enemies. God loved us enough to die so that we wouldn’t have to be God’s enemies anymore.
It is in the abundance of that mercy that we participate in the relational economics of Jesus. The economics of abundance. Where there is always more to give. More clothing. More blessings. More cheeks. More mercy and forgiveness. More love. It is in the mercy of God that we have experienced that we are able to extend that mercy, grounded in love, to our enemies. To the ones who hate us and curse us. To the ones who have nothing to offer us in return. To the ones who subvert our values and contradict our reasoning. To the Goodloe Suttons of the world.
Trust that there is enough love in you to do even that. Because God has put that love in you. With mercy and kindness. God can make our enemies into neighbors. Not by changing them. But by loving us enough to love them.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.