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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Loving Enemies and the Selfhood of Jesus

Luke 6:27-38 is one of those really tough passages of the Bible. It starts with, "But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies . . . ," and it just continues from there.

Verses 27-30 are about choosing to be taken advantage of by people who are stronger than you, people who hate you, curse you, mistreat you, hit you, take from you. You're supposed to let them do it, give them more besides, and try to help them by action and prayer.

Verses 31-36 are about choosing to be taken advantage of by people who are weaker than you, people who need help and money. You're supposed to help them even if though they won't thank you and lend to them even though they won't pay you back.

Verses 37-38 sum up the preceding. Don't judge or condemn the people who molest you or mooch off you. Instead forgive them—that's the only way you'll be forgiven too. Give to them—in due proportion you will get far more back, or you won't if you don't.

There are several reasons that I strongly resent Jesus' commands here. I resent losing my stuff. More, I resent losing my pride. I resent still more losing the boundary between me and someone else. The fact of invasion is more abhorrent than the result of invasion. Worst of all, I think, if I don't defend my boundary, who will? And why would anyone defend my boundary if I don't?

But it occurs to me that Jesus himself was never invaded. Losing stuff to those weaker didn't violate his boundary. Losing his life to the strong didn't either. In fact, no matter how severe the demand or the drain, it never made him less than he was, nor does he ever betray a suggestion that he felt that it did.

The reason is that Jesus' selfhood was extremely tightly constricted around one thing, which he mentions in v. 20: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you." Jesus' self was 100% secured in God's soon-to-come government. Therefore, no loss was really loss. Nothing begged of him, demanded of him, or taken from him was actually him. It was all flimsy, disposable, temporary stuff that would soon be replaced by the real thing, where he really was. Even the life in his mortal body was easily given, as it was temporary too. Jesus' essential Jesus-ness, the stuff of him that he could not yield without losing some of himself, was in heaven with the Father beyond the touch of anyone who might invade it. It could not be touched, was eternal and imperishable, and would very soon be revealed to replace whatever people might think they were taking from him now.

Jesus knew this. If I knew it that well, if 100% of my treasure was in heaven and speedily on its way to earth and that fact was beyond doubt or question to me, then Jesus' commands about loving my enemies would suddenly become much more achievable. Because even though it might look to all the world like I'm being taken advantage of, I would not experience it that way. There is nothing anybody could take from me that was part of me. No possession would be part of me; not even my mortal body would be part of me, really. My life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Nothing taken from me would be a violation, because none of it is mine, or me. From that vantage point, the worst that any enemy could take from me seems really pitifully small and easily forgiven.

On the other hand, even though from one point of view Jesus' selfhood was tightly constricted in heaven, from another vantage point it was expansive enough to encompass all of creation. He is, after all, the Word of God through whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together (John 1:1; Col. 1:16-17). Because his selfhood includes everything, again, nothing could be taken from him and his boundary could never be violated. No one could ever invade him, because there is no outside of him from whence to invade.

It's funny: we tend to think that as human Jesus suffered but as God he didn't. As to injury, this is certainly true. The man Jesus of Nazareth in degradable flesh could be deformed, crushed, and minimized, while the Son of God (who Jesus is) could not be any the less God than he is, no matter what one might pretend to do to him.

But as to the experience of pain, I rather think that the reverse is closer to the truth. It was as human that Jesus' selfhood was perfectly committed to the security of heaven, just as he commands ours to be. But it was as God that Jesus' selfhood extends across the cosmos, encompassing everything. And therefore every disorder, injustice, wrong, and sin Jesus feels acutely, like an internal disease. Though he is not compromised by it, if he centers his attention on anything narrower than the perfect beginning-to-the-end totality of it all, he must be incomprehensibly pained by the least evil.

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