(Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, Psalm 119:33-40, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/3oHaTGWAKD0)
38‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Before we tackle our scripture readings for this morning, let us begin with a story about a sweet witch. There once was a very special little witch. She was special because she was good hearted, but she had no idea how to put that into practice. From the time when she very young, she had been told off many times by the witches. They told her she had to be wicked like all the rest of them. The little witch suffered greatly; she didn’t want to be wicked. All her spells were a disaster, and she couldn’t find anyone to teach her how to put her goodness into action. So the little witch was sad most of the time.
One day she heard that the old witches were planning to cast a spell on a big mountain and turn it into a volcano, which would destroy a small town. The good little witch thought about how she could prevent this, but she didn’t really know how to. When she went to speak to the townsfolk to warn them, they threw her out and pelted her with stones, shouting, “Get away from here, witch!” The little witch ran off, and sat crying at the side of the road. Soon a few children came by and, seeing her crying, tried to console her. She told them that she was a good witch, but she didn’t know how to put her goodness into practice, and that everyone treated her badly. The children told her that being good was very easy. All you had to do was help others, do good deeds for them. “And what can I do for you guys?” asked the witch. “You could give us some sweets!” they told her, happily. The witch was very embarrassed; she had no sweets on her, and she knew no spell for making them. But the children didn’t mind, and off they went to play.
Feeling somewhat encouraged by this, the little witch set off for her cave ready to help everyone. However, on her way, she came across the old witches casting their spell on the mountain. The mountain had already turned into a volcano and was beginning to spit fire. The little witch wanted to prevent this happening, but she didn’t know how. Then a whole load of magic words came into her head. She said them and, before she knew it, the fire on the mountain had turned into a stream of sweets. The mountain launched thousands of sweets into the air and they fell onto the town below.
And that’s how the little witch learned how to do good; by sincerely wanting to help others. The children realized that all this had been thanks to her, and they let everyone know. From that day onwards, no one in the town thought of her, or treat her, like a wicked witch. She made friends with everyone there, and did what she could to help them. And in memory of her spell, since then they always called her The Sweet Witch.
It’s a cute little story that illustrates several elements of our scripture readings assigned for this morning. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a story with a moral; mind you, a similar moral behind our readings. Our little witch had the problem of being blessed with goodness in a wicked world. All the other witches wanted her to be like them: wicked. But she knew that she wasn’t like them. She knew that she had a goodness inside her that just needed to be shared with others. As if the grief she received from all the other wicked witches around her wasn’t enough, she didn’t know the slightest inkling of how to share her goodness. So really she had 2 problems: a goodness not shared by those around her and an inability to share that goodness. She thought there was some magic trick to sharing her goodness. If she could only say or do that one special thing that would show the world just how good she was, she would gladly say or do it. Along came the children and helped her realize that being good was very easy; “All you had to do was help others, do good deeds for them.” Want others to know your goodness? Simply help them! Simply open yourself up and let the goodness spill out of you. The witch just spewed out a bunch of magic words and transformed the wickedness going on around her into goodness. She turned wicked into good “by sincerely wanting to help others.” It really is that easy!
And like those children, God sees the goodness that is in each of us. After all, we are his beloved children! He created us with his goodness inside of us and He wants us to share it by helping others. He wants us to love each other and look out for each other. We need each other in this world. I don’t know if we’ll need each other in the next world but we most certainly need each other in this world. God gave us to each other to help each other and to love each other. The goodness He placed inside each of us is to be used for helping each other.
Why else would He speak his words to Moses as we heard in our first passage from Leviticus? Why does He tell us not to reap to the edges of our fields, to hoard all that we think we’ve “earned” to ourselves, or destroy the leftover fruits of our labor? So that the poor and less fortunate among us might have something to get by on. Why does God tell us not to steal or lie or defraud or render false judgment upon our neighbors? Because these are the exact opposite of helping our neighbors. These types of behavior hurt our neighbors more than they hurt us. Why does God tell us not to have hate in our hearts for our beloved family members? Because they are our most cherished neighbors; they are the neighbors we ought to want to help the most. Indeed, we are to listen to God–“you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
In our psalm, we hear David cry out, “teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…give me understanding…lead me in the path of your commandments.” Did you hear his words? “The way of your statutes” and “path of your commandments.” He isn’t saying, “teach me your statutes and commandments.” No, he’s saying, “teach me the purpose for your statutes and commandments.” Why does God give us his statutes and commandments and decrees and ordinances? So that we might better help each other, of course! So that we might look beyond our selfish, sinful natures and live for each other and for God. God’s statutes and commandments and decrees and ordinances help to bring out the goodness that is in each of us…that God planted inside each of us, burning to be set free in this world.
Our gospel passage takes our understanding of what it means to help each other to a whole new level. It is not unlike the Sweet Witch who spit out a bunch of magic words that turned the spewing lava into spewing sweets. When we open ourselves to spill out our goodness, often times we don’t have a choice in the form our goodness takes. We can’t limit our goodness for just our friends. Sometimes our goodness must be shared with our enemies too. Sometimes our goodness must be shared with those who despise or hate us; who strike us or take from us or force us to do things we don’t want to do or beg from us. These are the people that Jesus says for us to share our goodness with. These are the people that we are called to help and love. These are the people that need what we have to share the most. No, we are to share our goodness in spite of the wickedness that is all around us.
Helping each other is what we are called to do. God wants us to serve each other. We are to serve as He serves us: with absolutely no preference or condition. God serves each and every one of us. God LOVES each and every one us! As we continue through this season of Epiphany, let us help each other; not just our friends but our enemies too. Let us open ourselves to share the goodness within each of us and work to become…a servant to all.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.