Genesis 45: 3-11, 15; Psalm 37: 1-11, 39-40; Luke 6: 27-38
Pearl: Receiving grace in return for evil
Function: To move listeners to wear the shoes of the one who is not the victim but the perpetrator who needs forgiveness and who needs grace in order to be softer of heart and more useful to Christ.
Usually when we attend to Jesus’ teaching about “turning the other cheek” and “giving even your shirt to the one who just stole your coat” we put ourselves in the place of the victim. That is the literal focus of Jesus’ teaching here in regard to the Golden Rule. Today I want us to turn the tables and put ourselves in the place of the one who took of another and who struck another on the cheek. Today we think of our being in the place of the thief, the murderer, the abuser…for in truth, we are all of these things at times.
- Aren’t there times when you hate?
- …when you curse others?
- …when you abuse others physically, mentally, or emotionally?
- …when you judge and condemn others?
- Sadly we have to say that yes there are times when we are these things.
- The question is: What happens in us when those we hurt turn the other cheek or give us their shirt after we stole their coat?
- Today we attend to the transforming effect of grace when it is extended to us by those we have hurt.
- The truth is that those who attend the typical church worship services are both the victims and the victimizers, the oppressed and the oppressors.
Hal Runkel is a marriage and family therapist, and writes about parenting and relationships. Runkel shared his best advice for de-escalating a conflict that’s spiraled out of control because one person said something that cut deep.
- The advice is just one word: “Ouch.” It’s a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough in marriage, Runkel said.
- He writes: “When you’re in conflict, inevitably you will say something that hurts the other person using the ‘inside information’ that you have on them or that they have on you….”
- Here’s where the word “Ouch” comes in handy. Runkel explained that the best response in this situation is simply, “ That one hurt. I don’t know if you were meaning to hurt me; I don’t know if that’s what you were going for; but that’s what you did.”
- Your partner may get defensive and say something back like, “You’ve said some pretty hurtful things to me!”
- Now here’s your line: “You’re right. I have, and I hate that I have.”
- “That conversation—which was a very familiar path, that fight—is now a totally different path because one of you chose to actually get vulnerable,” Runkel said.
- It was not a step of pushing your partner away. It was a step of inviting your partner in by saying: ‘You know what? I am open enough to you that you can actually hurt me. So now how about we talk to each other as if we actually love each other?”
- This is a way of treating another the way you would want to be treated.
- Put yourself in the place of the one who just heard the other say “Ouch” to you.
- It is a way of turning the other cheek, actually. You could let them have it again or you could let the word and the action sink in.
- You are disarmed and unnerved a little, maybe. But you are affected and likely changing because of it.
Weep a few tears at your hardness and soften your heart to the Way of Jesus.
How are you changed when those you hurt let you know what you’ve done but forgive you? What happens inside you when people treat you the way that they would want to be treated?
- Put yourselves in the place of Joseph’s brothers. You remember the terrible story of how they hated their youngest brother whose ego was larger than life itself. He talked, actually prophetically and correctly, he boasted about how all of his older brothers and extended family would someday bow down in homage to him. And even worse, he was father’s favorite son.
- So you brothers decide to silence this obnoxious youngster; he is going to get his! You sell him off to a passing caravan. Then you make it look like he was killed by a wild beast to father. You are finally, once and for all, done with Joseph and all of his big talk!
- Amazingly it happened that Joseph ended up in Egypt and to make a long story short, years later he ended up as the highest official in Egypt next to the Pharaoh himself.
- When you his brothers go down to Egypt, dispatched by your father to fetch grain during a devastating famine, you cannot believe the bad luck that finally caught up to you.
- It turns out that the official you must go before to beg grain is your long-forgotten younger brother who you so deceitfully and hatefully abandoned.
- You expect vengeance, justice. You expect “Look at me now! You are bowing down before me just as I said!”
- But no, not at all. Joseph asks you to come closer. You think he’s going to bring down the hatchet! He says, come closer. And then he says, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt…do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves…for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45: 4, 5).
- Joseph looked you in the eyes and said, “I…am…your…brother!” Your younger brother Joseph still looks at you as his brothers.
- You expected vengeance and justice, but you received from your brother grace and love and forgiveness and abundant provision for you and for your children and for their children.
- How does it feel to receive good for all of your evil?
- It disarms. It unnerves. It transforms you!
Shed some tears at your hardness and soften your heart to the Way of Joseph, the Way of Jesus.
- Amy Biehl was a straight-A student and diving champion, a vital young Christian woman who went off to support the cause of justice in South Africa. Tragically in 1994, she was stoned and stabbed to death by a mob of angry militants.
- To them she was just a white oppressor. They had no idea they were killing a friend of their own cause.
- Her parents were devastated by the news. But instead of lashing out in anger, they decided to try to do what their daughter would have wanted. They learned as much as they could about the struggle for freedom in South Africa, eventually traveling there themselves.
- They visited the squatter camps of Guguletu, the black township where Amy’s killers had grown up. Seeing the terrible conditions, they began to understand the frustrations that drove some of them to violence.
- Linda, Amy’s mother, even visited the home of one of the murderers and met with his mother. She told her she forgave her son for what he had done. Later she told a reporter from TV’s 60 Minutes what she felt after hugging the woman:
- “I walked out of that home. There was a rainbow in the sky. My heart was very light. I felt I had come to terms. And if that is forgiveness, I felt it. And I felt—you know, I felt—I feel at peace with myself. So to me, that’s forgiveness.”
- When they returned to the States, the Biehls established the Amy Biehl Foundation to fund 15 different social programs serving thousands of young people.
- Among the children who first enrolled in the after-school program was the 12-year-old sister of one of the murderers. When her brother and the other two murderers applied for amnesty after serving four years in jail, the authorities told Peter and Linda they could block the men’s release, if they wished. The Biehls decided not to object, and the men were freed.
- How do you think those murderers felt to receive mercy, grace, and freedom instead of justice and vengeance?
- We pray that it changed them.
- We pray that it changes us when we hate, and when we abuse, and when we condemn, and when we judge.
- When we think of all of the grace and love and forgiveness that is extended to us through our lives we are disarmed; we are unnerved. This is the effect of the grace of God when it is given to us by other people.
Weep at your hardness and soften your heart to the Way of Jesus.
Think of all of the grace that is extended to you, so do the same for others: fulfilling the Golden Rule of “doing to others as you would have them do to you.”
A man flew from New York to Wisconsin to say he was sorry to his ex-wife. They were together for 14 years when she developed breast cancer in 2006. He was beside her through her surgery and chemotherapy appointments, but was terrified. At the end of her chemo, when she was still very sick, he ran. He began a torrid affair with his therapist, whom he eventually married.
- His ex-wife healed from the cancer, and went on to marry again and have two children, but his violation was a big one. He’d said he was sorry before, but the words didn’t reach the bottom of an experience as deep as abandonment.
- If words aren’t enough, what’s left? In a telephone conversation, she told him that she never really had the chance to sit down with him and tell him how the pain he caused her felt. A key part of apology is really listening to the victim’s experience, taking it in deeply. So he booked a ticket to Wisconsin.
- He told her “I am sorry for causing you such great sadness.”
- They talked about ways to make amends; he thought of everything from helping out with her kids to volunteering in cancer clinics.
- “But no,” she said, “the amends were here, in this process”…in this process of looking in each other’s eyes, being in each other’s presence to actually see, to hear, to know. (Chris Beam, “I did a terrible thing. How can I apologize?” The New York Times, June 30, 2018).
What happens to us when the tables are turned? What happens when we are the haters, the condemners, and the abusers, the thieves, and the cheeks are turned toward us…the shirts are given to us?
- Weep for your hardness of heart and soften your heart to the Way of Jesus.
- Humble yourselves as you consider the grace that is constantly extended to you.
- When people return good for our evil it changes us…gradually…more and more into the Way of Jesus.
- It was a beautiful drama when Joseph was reunited with his brothers.
- They were completely disarmed and unnerved by his grace toward them. “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him” (Gen. 45: 15).
- Christ came into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17, paraphrased).
We should be changing and transforming day after day because of all of the grace that comes our way…all of the cheeks that are being turned to us…all of the riches that are being given to us.
Praise God for his love for sinners…such as us!