Saturday, October 13, 2018

Oh, listen, then do! I get it!

The Golden Rule - I even have a ruler with the words printed on it! This is one of the most common 'rules' of the Bible, often repeated by many an individual who has no idea they are quoting scripture! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Did you ever stop to consider how Jesus opens this statement? If you look closely, you will notice he says these words to anyone who is listening - really listening to what he has to say. The beginning point of all teaching in our  lives begins with listening - then it moves into the doing part. Sometimes we get this backward and attempt to do before we hear!

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:27-30)

Jesus is speaking these words - the setting or timing of when they were spoken is important to understand.  He is under attack from those who should be shouting in praise of his works.  The Pharisees see him "mixing with" common sinners and criticize him terribly, publicly ridiculing him for the company he keeps. Rather than celebrating that he is reaching out to those in the greatest need, they criticize his choice of friends. He is criticized for his timing in doing what he is doing. He heals on the Sabbath - seen by his critics as a "work" by those of Rabbinical teaching. Their hearts are so "into" the rule-keeping (doing) that they fail to see the needs right before them (listening). He has just finished the appointment of his twelve disciples - calling them to be his closest companions during the ministry he performed on this earth - something we should not gloss over as we look at his timing in speaking these words.

There is one thing I have learned over the years - if we are prepared for the journey, the path is easier to travel. It is when we are unprepared to travel where it is we are called to travel that we struggle with the pathway we are on. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus deals with one of the most difficult "roads" that any of his disciples must walk - the road to forgiveness. Why does he begin with this teaching? I believe it is because Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they'd find themselves walking it over and over again. He wanted them to be prepared for a very long journey. The journey would involve many opportunities to put into practice the principles they were being taught - hearing, then doing.

Oftentimes, forgiveness is a journey we'd rather not travel alone, but we often find ourselves as the only ones realizing that the journey is necessary. We recognize that there is the need to forgive - bringing restoration into a damaged relationship - but we feel as though we are the only ones traveling the road. Those who may have committed the offense may not even realize that they play a part in the journey. It is important to remember we NEVER walk the path alone - Jesus is alongside each step of the way - even when the ones involved in the offense are unaware the journey has even begun. It is a road that must be traveled frequently - over and over until the journey is completed. Jesus was asked by one of his disciples just how many times he must forgive. He posed a question and suggested an answer that seemed quite generous - seven times was his proposal. To that, Jesus answered, "Naw, seventy times seven....", and at that answer, jaws dropped. Forgiveness extended over and over - until it is complete.

It is an uninvited pathway - we don't forgive just because another asks us to travel that path with them - we initiate the journey, often without anyone else realizing the journey has begun. This is quite evident in Jesus' words to his Father on the day of his death, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Those who needed his deepest forgiveness did not seek it - in fact, they did not even know they needed it. Our offenders often don't seek forgiveness - ours is the path to them - we take the first steps. It is an unconditional and costly journey. There is no "trip insurance" with the assurance that your "investment" will be fully enjoyed and participated in by all who take the journey. There are no "conditions" under which the journey can be "refunded" if the destination is not reached by all involved in the offense. In other words, we pay the price - others enjoy the benefit - often without realizing the price that was paid.    

So, although it is a difficult road to travel - it is a necessary one. Jesus began his ministry with his disciples revealing this much needed lesson of life. Forgiveness begins with us taking the first step. Forgiveness is possible only because of the first step taken. Do unto others...we call this the "golden rule" by which we are to relate to one another. Easier said than done. It is a difficult path to walk, but the rewards of the journey are astronomical. There is nothing more binding than bitterness. There is nothing more weighing upon us than a load of unforgiveness. There is nothing more costly to us than forgiveness that is not sought, or is not "deserved", but which is given freely from a listening heart. 
There is nothing more freeing than unconditional forgiveness - taking the first step. There is nothing more enlightening than seeing the other person through the eyes of Christ. Equally, there is nothing more rewarding than the steps you take toward your offender. A tough journey at that, but a necessary one! Walk on!