Have you ever been told to "Go the extra mile?" Or have you ever described the generosity of a person by saying, "He'd give you the shirt off his back?" Where do you suppose phrases like these originated? I think they go directly back to Jesus' teaching in his famous Sermon on the Mount where he defines what constitutes "blessing" and "blessed." I highly recommend that you read the whole fifth chapter of Matthew for context when you are able, but I want to remark here on a few points that have been circulating in my head in recent weeks:
1) I must not love only the people who love me. I am commanded to love my enemies, to love and care about strangers. Oh, this goes against everything in us! Consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. You know how it goes: There is a man who is traveling that is waylaid by criminals who beat him up, rob him, and leave him for dead along the road. Many "good" guys see him and keep going, not wanting to get involved, until one unimpressive foreigner happens by. He feels compassion. He stops and gives medical attention before bringing the man to today's equivalent of an ER. He nurses him overnight and, when he must continue about his business, he leaves money for someone else to care for him saying, "Whatever more it costs to continue his care, I will pay when I return." Did you notice this story gives no background on the victim? It doesn't tell us if he was innocent and upright or a scoundrel. Maybe he had a reputation for swindling others and was suffering payback from those he'd taken advantage of? Maybe some of the people who passed by him on the road knew who he was and purposely kept going? We don't know. The only focus of the story is on what the Samaritan did. He went the extra mile. He gave more than the shirt off his back. He loved a stranger.
2) I am called to go beyond what is asked or expected. In his sermon, Jesus told the masses that if
3) I need to lay down my life. Jesus said, "No one takes my life, I sacrifice it voluntarily." While we were ENEMIES of God, hating him and not the least bit interested in looking for him, he GAVE his Son. Lay down my life? I have a hard time laying aside my agenda, my preferences, my momentary comfort for the benefit of someone else before I feel grievously violated. How do you feel when someone takes something that is yours? Do you feel angry? Vengeful? What if you decide that you are releasing it as a gift instead? Would it change how you felt? Which is better; to feel put upon or taken advantage of--or to decide what you are doing/giving is a GIFT and expect nothing in return? What if you loaned money to someone who asked and considered it a gift instead? What if you fed the guy on the street corner without needing a disclosure of how wisely he'd spend your donation? What if you strongly committed to consider the needs of your neighbor as every bit (or more) important than your own? How would this affect our little corner of the planet?
When we behave in this counter-intuitive, reverse-culture manner, we prove that we are Children of our Heavenly Father, and do you know why? WE ARE ACTING LIKE HIM. He gives to the ungrateful constantly. (That would be you.) He rains down continual blessings on those who think they deserve it and those who don't. This, Friends, is how we are Salt for the earth. This is how we are Light for the world. Go. Do. Be.
Photos from Hillcrest Academy's mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Spring 2015
(Matthew 5, Luke 10:25-37, Romans 5:8, John 10:18)