In today’s messed up world, it is sometimes hard for us to have any kind of hope. With all the violence, the brokenness, the injustice, we learn to grasp for and cling on to whatever small silver lining we can get. With the endless reports of crime, corruption, and conflict we need to somehow be reminded that things can be better. With people seemingly more capable of greater evil than ever before, we need to find that solace in hope.
And that hope is found for many in a very simple concept. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The concept is: “what goes around comes around.” Let’s be honest here, don’t we all want this to be true? I mean, thinking that those who do bad will get what’s coming to them makes us feel better, doesn’t it? Believing that the evil in the world will somehow be punished alleviates the despair we sometimes feel. Knowing that what goes around will eventually come around fills us with hope in that justice will be served.
And it’s biblical too, isn’t it? An eye for an eye, we like to say. So when someone wrongs us, like say, takes out one of our eyes, it’s completely within our biblical right to take one of their eyes in return. In this case, two wrongs do make a right. Equal value. Or we like to use Jesus’ words “do onto others as you would have them do onto you”. So if that were true, simple logic tells us that the reverse is true as well. As in, if someone does something wrong to us, then that is basically giving us permission to do something wrong back. Because they’re doing onto us what they think is ok to be done to themselves, right? Even in today’s second lesson Paul tells us that we reap what we sow. So what goes around doesn’t just come around, but we are pretty much commanded to make it go around. We are commanded to make sure people pay for their wrong doings. We are commanded to serve justice and give to the unrighteous what they deserve.
So that must mean that we need to take matters into our own hands, right?
Because really, what goes around doesn’t always just come back around on its own, does it? We sometimes get frustrated when those who should be getting theirs don’t actually get anything at all, but they just keep on keeping on, being unjust and doing bad, with no end in sight. Not everyone reaps what they sow, as we have many people out there going unpunished, not getting what they deserve, not even reprimanded for their wrong doing, which just sucks away all hope we have for justice.
And I know, it’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It’s like there’s no hope, no hope at all. So yeah, we might want to take matters into our own hands. We might want to do just what we talked about, an eye for an eye. We might want to exact our own flavour of justice.
Just like the disciples last week, we might want to call fire to rain down from heaven. We might want our enemies to pay and learn their lesson. We want to hurt those who hurt us. We want justice.
But is what we want really justice? Or should I say, is what we want really God’s justice? Sure, we might think, we already said it’s from the bible. But does that make it God’s justice?
Well, of course not. We remember Jesus’ reaction in rebuking the disciples when they wanted to call fire down from heaven. We hear Jesus’ explanation of the whole eye for an eye thing. And today, we have Jesus instructing his disciples on what to do when they are rejected, not listened to, and cast aside.
And it isn’t what we’d hope. We’d hope Jesus would give them and us the power to smite our enemies, strength to rip down the buildings that they’re in to show them what God is on our side, authority to cast them into the place of much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But no, Jesus just says shake the dust off your feet in protest of them. Whoa, easy Jesus, don’t get too ahead of yourself. Actually shake the dust off your sandals? That is serious business.
Can you imagine the reaction of those being protested against? Whoa, that guy just shook the dust off his shoes. Dust! Off his shoes! He’s not messing around, we probably should shape up here, guys. No, no one will probably even notice you doing the hokey pokey in the middle of the street and your shoes being slightly cleaner than from before you started. I mean really, shaking the dust off your feet isn’t going to get anyone’s attention.
And maybe that is the point. Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that God’s justice isn’t about exacting revenge, retaliating with an eye for an eye, or making sure what they throw around goes right back around to them. Instead, maybe Jesus here is saying that God’s justice is about grace, mercy, and knowing that there is forgiveness even when our shortcomings are so great. Maybe God’s justice isn’t about teaching a lesson but about showing understanding, understanding the value and worth every person has not because they’ve earned it, but because God wills them to have it. Maybe God’s justice isn’t at all like our justice, but it is something greater than we ever could have imagined.
See, Jesus instructs his disciples that when they are rejected, it is actually God who is rejected. When they aren’t listened to, it is actually God who isn’t being listened too. And when they are excluding you from their community and way of life, it is God that they are excluding. And yet, Jesus tells them to continue to proclaim that God’s kingdom has come near.
God’s kingdom has come near. To these folk, that we would want to unleash our own brand of justice on. To us, who others might want to do the same. To everyone whether they believe or not. God’s kingdom has come near.
See, this is God’s truth. This is God’s justice. This is God’s hope. That we be the bringers of God’s gospel to the world, to show others how God’s justice of grace and mercy actually works, and to be the hope that the world can be a better place because of our work and ministry in God’s name.
I know, this is way easier said than done. It is easier to retaliate than it is to see the good in someone. It is easier to hold a grudge than it is to forgive. It is easier to hate than it is to love. But it is exactly God’s justice that we are encouraged to show others that has been first shown to us, that as much as we might want to retaliate, hold grudges, and even hate others? There are probably a bunch of people out there that feel the same way about us.
So it is our hope to be better. It is our mission to love as God loves. It is our prayer to bring out God’s justice.
Christian Activist Shane Claiborne writes that “prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do”. I believe this is true for us. That as we pray for hope, we become that hope as our changing and transforming lives change and transform those around us. As we pray for justice, we become the ones to go out into the world as heralds of the justice that God brings. As we pray for peace, we be the ones who don’t retaliate violence for violence, hatred for hatred, an eye for an eye, but with God’s divine love, grace, and mercy.
In this season after Pentecost, may we continue in our prayers for hope and justice for the world, but also see our role and calling and mission to bring that hope and justice for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.