Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Identified Sinners

Mt 21:23-32[1]

Families are challenging. Anybody who has a family knows that. In fact, most people who study families these days will tell you that all families are at least a little dysfunctional. One of the ways that families can be dysfunctional is by dumping all the hurtful and harmful patterns on one person. That person is called the “identified patient.” Often it will be a teenager with a drug problem or an eating disorder. Psychologists will tell you that the only way to treat the “identified patient” is to treat the whole family, because in a very real sense that person is simply embodying the problems inherent in the whole system. Sadly, some families reject this notion, because it means everybody has to take responsibility for the problem, and it’s much more convenient to just let the “identified patient” take the blame.

I think our Gospel lesson this week reflects something of this dynamic in the religious family of Judaism in his day. The religious leaders were supposed to be the examples of righteousness. They were the ones who were devoted to constantly studying and keeping the word of God. They controlled the Temple and the Synagogues, which means that they controlled who was considered “righteous” and who was branded a “sinner.” When Jesus referred to the “tax collectors and prostitutes” as shorthand for “sinners,” he was simply voicing the views of the Jewish leaders of the day.

But Jesus tells a parable that suggests there was something different going on in this whole setup. In the parable, a father asks a son to go work in the vineyard and he refuses, but then changes his mind and goes. The father asks his second son to go to work and he says yes, but then doesn’t go. The clear implication is that it’s not always those who make a lot of noise about being righteous who actually practice the peace and justice and freedom of God’s realm. In fact, Jesus told the religious authorities point blank that the tax collectors and prostitutes were way ahead of them when it came to actually doing God’s will!

In fact, however, the authorities had already betrayed their fraudulent religion in their interaction with Jesus. When they asked him about his own authority, they were clearly not being straightforward. Not only were they being deceptive with Jesus, they were also anxious to conceal their true opinion from the crowds. Their religion was such that they were more worried about maintaining their power and prestige and about how they looked to other people than about actually practicing the way of life that Jesus called “the way of righteousness” (Matt. 21:32).[2] It would seem that the “righteous” people weren’t so righteous after all.

On the other hand, it would seem that at least some of the people whom the religious authorities branded as sinners didn’t deserve to be so stigmatized. In fact, it would seem likely that the whole system of religion was to some extent an elaborate self-justification for the self-righteous [3] The authorities who were often deceitful and malicious got to designate themselves as “righteous” whereas people who may have been guilty of nothing more than being poor or destitute were designated as “sinners.”[4] It’s as if they were the “identified patients” in that dysfunctional family—or better, they were the “identified sinners.” But designating them as sinners only gave the “righteous” a convenient way to avoid facing their sins by diverting the attention to others. Making tax collectors and prostitutes the “identified sinners” only enabled them to keep up appearances with their sham religion.

This kind of behavior was not the exclusive prerogative of the self-righteous in Jesus’ day. Religious leaders throughout the ages have exercised a great deal of control over people by their power to determine who gets branded sinners and who gets to be righteous. And religious people of all levels have identified others as “sinners” as a way of justifying themselves. But whenever we use our religion to make ourselves look good at the expense of others, we’re really only deceiving ourselves. We’re deflecting the attention away from ourselves so we can keep up the appearance of righteousness. We’re using them as “identified sinners” so that we can avoid facing our own sins.

In “the Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus preached, that kind of hypocrisy will not do. In the way of living that puts into practice God’s justice and peace and freedom, there is no room for making yourself look good at the expense of others. But as I said before, this kingdom is one that operates completely differently from the way things work in our everyday lives. In this strange kingdom, those who are the “identified sinners” can be way ahead of the supposedly righteous when it comes to actually doing the will of God!

Our gospel lesson confronts us with hard truth that our religious devotion can often turn into something harmful. Unfortunately, there is something in religion that can turn it all too easily into a way of simply making ourselves look good. But that kind of hypocrisy doesn’t just hurt those we identify as “sinners.” It also hurts us. When our religion is about justifying ourselves, it easily turns into an obsession—and obsessions rarely do us any good![5] But when we leave behind the need to make ourselves look good and simply seek to put into practice “the way of righteousness,” then we experience the peace and freedom of the kingdom of heaven—right here.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/25/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Ulrich Luz and Helmut Koester, Matthew 21-28: A Commentary, 31

[3] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 114: by accepting the “sinners,” Jesus was “breaking through the vicious circle of their discrimination in the system of values set up by the righteous.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 128-131; Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 87-89, 186-87.

[4] Cf. Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 112-13, where he points out the social dimensions of the terms “righteous” and “sinner.”

[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus, 114, on the compulsive nature of self-righteousness.

Nothing to Earn

Mt 20:1-16[1]

I have confessed on more than one occasion that I’m not very good at handling money. That’s not for lack of exposure to money matters. I was raised in part by a Grandfather who taught me the value of putting your money to work for you before I reached adolescence. So as a young Seminary professor in my 30’s, you will understand that I was putting 10% of my income into retirement. Unfortunately, life has a way of thwarting the best laid plans. In fact, it would seem that our current economic situation is so complicated and confused that it is thwarting everyone’s best laid plans! Even those who study economics and follow the markets closely are scratching their heads and throwing their hands up in resignation.

Economics at that level may be hard to understand, but at a more down-to-earth level, it’s not hard at all. You have to plan your budget based on the principle that income must exceed expenses. If it doesn’t, you have to make other plans, or you have to cut your expenses. That applies to family budgets, church budgets, and businesses as well. And when it comes to running a business, again the principles are fairly straightforward: you reward the employees who perform the best, and to those who don’t perform you give instruction and warning, and finally when all else fails, you let them go.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story that reflects a completely different way of looking at things. It is a story about a vineyard owner who pays his workers on the principle of generosity, rather than on the principle of merit. And this story is supposed to illustrate “the Kingdom of Heaven.” That phrase might lead us to think of this as some kind of otherworldly realm, but that is not the case. In Matthew’s Gospel, “the Kingdom of Heaven” is just a more reverent way of saying “the Kingdom of God.” They both refer to the same thing: a way of living that puts into practice God’s justice and peace and freedom for all people. It is the goal toward which everything in Scripture is moving. It is the hope that continues to inspire faith and love on the part of those who seek to live as the people of God.[2]

Having said that, I think we would have to admit that it is a strange kingdom. The story from our lesson for today depicts a man who owns a vineyard large enough to employ all the day laborers this particular community could supply. Apparently, the harvest is ready and he’s anxious to get the grapes out of the field as quickly as possible. And so he goes to the market at the break of day to hire workers for his field. But then he keeps going back all day long, sending more workers to help with the harvest. So far so good.

But when it comes time to pay the workers for their labor, things begin to get strange. The vineyard owner instructs that the workers be paid beginning with the last to be hired—and he pays them all the same thing! Those who worked only 1 hour get a full day’s wage, just like those who put in a full 12 hours! This part makes no sense if you’re trying to run a business. Think of it—if you tried to run a business on the basis of paying everybody the same thing regardless of how well they worked, your business wouldn’t last very long.

And when one of those who had worked all day complained, the employer simply insists that he has a right to be generous with what belongs to him. The story of the workers in the vineyard insists that in the kingdom God envisions, the realm in which God’s justice and peace and freedom defines life for all people, there is nothing to earn.[3] In a very real sense, we are all “eleventh-hour workers,” regardless of what we may have done.[4] In this kingdom, everyone receives the generosity of God’s grace, God’s unconditional love, and God’s unfailing mercy.[5]

The “Kingdom of Heaven” that Jesus talks about is a strange kingdom indeed! It operates completely differently from the way things work in our everyday lives. In the strange kingdom Jesus envisions, “the last will be first and the first will be last.” In this strange kingdom, those who are deemed godless gain entry ahead of those who are supposedly godly and righteous. In this strange kingdom, little children are the example by which we all must measure ourselves. In this strange kingdom, those who serve are the ones who are viewed as great. It is a strange kingdom indeed! How can this kind of kingdom survive in a world where the first are first and the last are last? What was Jesus thinking in advocating this kind of kingdom as the ideal for those who seek to be the people of God?

I think the point of it all is that the grace of God, God’s unconditional love, and God’s unfailing mercy, are gifts that we can never earn. They are given to us all freely, generously, with no strings attached. That means there is nothing to earn—we don’t have to do more or be better in order to ensure that God loves us, because God loves us completely already.[6] As Desmond Tutu puts it, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more” and “there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”[7] It is a strange kingdom indeed where there is nothing to earn. Thanks be to God!

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/18/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 97-99.

[3] Cf. Desmond and Mpho Tutu, Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, 21.

[4] Douglas A. Hare, Matthew, 231.

[5] Cf. M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” New Interpreter’s Bible 8:394.

[6] Tutu and Tutu, Made for Goodness, 24-25.

[7] Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, 32

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven

Mt 18:21-35[1]

Every Sunday, millions of Christians in this country pray for God to forgive us as we forgive others. I wonder to what extent we really take that seriously. Let’s face it, there’s something very difficult about really forgiving those who have wronged us. On this day, it’s especially difficult for us to forgive those who attacked this country and caused the deaths of thousands of our fellow Americans. And on this day, of all days, the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ tells us that we are to forgive those who sin against us not just seven times but seventy-seven times![2] When I was planning my sermons a couple of months ago and I saw that what the gospel reading was for this Sunday, I knew it was going to be challenging for us.

The last ten years have consumed us with a “war on terror.” Apparently, in some measures we have been relatively successful at thwarting Al Qaeda.[3] And yet, at what cost? Besides the many thousands who have died, there is also the cost in what are essentially intangible measures. We’ve had to learn to adjust to a whole different way of life that is marked by greater hostility toward those who are different from us, greater anxiety about our safety, and greater fear about our future. But perhaps the most pervasive cost to us is that in our effort to make ourselves feel safe we have sold our souls to the gods of war and violence. In the process, we have essentially imprisoned ourselves in a house whose boundaries are inscribed by our fear and anger and unwillingness to forgive.

There’s a story in the 2005 Sydney Pollack film, The Interpreter that I think illustrates our predicament: do we go on avenging ourselves on our enemies, or do we find a way to practice the forgiveness we say we believe in, and in so doing set ourselves free from that awful day? The film is about an interpreter at the United Nations named Sylvia. She tells the story of a ritual of forgiveness in Africa that’s based on the principle that “the only way to end grief is to save a life.” The ritual takes place when someone is murdered. After a year of mourning, the family of the victim undergoes the “Drowning Man Trial,” where the killer is tied up and thrown into a river to drown. The family have to choose—if they let the killer drown, they will have justice, but they will spend the rest of their lives in mourning. If they save the killer from drowning, if they accept that they share a common humanity and that life isn’t always just, then their act of saving a life can heal their grief. Whether there is or ever was such a thing as a “drowning man trial,” I think it serves at least like a parable for us: do we forgive as we have been forgiven, and in so doing find healing for ourselves, or do we seek vengeance and punishment, and so find ourselves trapped in grief and bitterness?

There is a real-life story of forgiveness that comes out of South Africa and the injustice of Apartheid. One person who embodies this story is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was raised in one of the townships—or better shanty towns—where black South Africans were kept. He lived Apartheid—he and his family experienced it firsthand. Several of his friends were imprisoned and even killed in the violence that defined South Africa under Apartheid. When that whole system of oppression ended, the South African people faced a crossroads: would they simply live out the script of every oppressed people throughout history, whereby the oppressed become the oppressors, or could they find a different path that would lead to healing for both oppressed and oppressors alike?[4]

The leaders of the new South Africa formed a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to try to seek that different path. Instead of handing out punishment, the whole purpose of the commission was to give victims the chance to tell their stories, to have their suffering acknowledged, and to confront their oppressors in person. And to give the oppressors a change to tell the truth about their crimes and seek forgiveness and clemency. They had no idea what would happen from this, but as it turns out, time after time, oppressed and oppressor came together and experienced genuine reconciliation based on the experience of crimes acknowledged and forgiven.

One of the foundational principles of this experience is what Tutu calls “Ubuntu.”[5] It is a Xhosa word that stands for the idea that we all share a common humanity. It says that the only way the human family can thrive is together. That means that when we look at another human being, even someone who has wounded us deeply, we cannot see an enemy, but rather a fellow human being, a brother or a sister. It seems to me that, in order to prayer the prayer, “forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and mean it, we have to practice “Ubuntu”—we have to acknowledge that we share a common humanity even with those who wrong us. When we can look at those who inflict pain on us and see brothers and sisters, then we can begin to forgive as we have been forgiven. Then we can begin to set them and ourselves free from the vicious circle of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and move into the freedom of forgiving as we have been forgiven.[6]

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/11/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” New Interpreters Bible 8: 380, where he observes, “Whoever counts has not forgiven at all, but is only biding his or her time (1 Cor 13:5). The kind of forgiveness called for is beyond all calculation.” Cf. also D. A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 537. Cf. also Ulrich Luz, Matthew, 465, where he points out that Peter was asking not about limited forgiveness but whether he was expected to practice perfect forgiveness. Jesus responds by calling for “The most perfect, boundlessly infinite, countlessly repeated forgiveness.”

[3] “Ten Years On,” The Economist 3 Sept 2011, 11-12.

[4] Cf. Desmond Tutu, God has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for our Time, 52-58.

[5] Cf. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, 47; cf. also Tutu, God Has a Dream, 25-28.

[6] Tutu & Tutu, Made for Goodness, 150-51.

Charity Never Fails

Rom. 13:8-10[1]

I think many people these days are pretty confused about love. We say “I love you,” but what we really mean is “I’m lonely and I want you to comfort me.” Or “I think you’re incredibly attractive and desirable.” Or “Will you please just do what I want?” Or “I’m really excited to have such a great looking guy/girl with me; my friends are going to think I’m really cool.” Love is about wanting, or desiring, or controlling. I think part of the reason for this is that we associate love so completely with romance. As a result, love has everything to do with feelings of infatuation or attraction or even lust. When we do that, we tend to lose sight of any aspect of love as a choice, as an act of will, as a gift you give to another person.

In the Bible we’re told that one of the two great commandments, one of the two principles that sum up what it means to try to be a person of faith and to live in a way that is responsive to God’s presence in our lives, is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Given our confusion about love, I think it’s no wonder that we’ve taken this great commandment and turned it into a mandate for self-help. Since you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself, it becomes a command to love yourself. Talk about turning things upside down!

By contrast, it would seem that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t prescribe healthy self-esteem, it assumes that we are going to love ourselves. Now, I realize that there truly are some people in this world who have a hard time loving themselves. And for them, a good lesson in self-esteem probably would help them to love others better. But the reality is that the kind of love prescribed by the command is not anywhere near that complicated. The idea is that, unless you have serious problems, you are going to do what you need to take care of yourself. You are going to eat when you’re hungry; you’re going to sleep when you’re tired. If you’re sick, you will do what it takes to get well. It’s a much more practical version of love than the one we operate with.[2]

From this perspective, loving your neighbor means, “if your neighbor is hungry, feed him.” It means “if your neighbor is thirsty, give her something to drink.” If there are people who are sick or hurting or suffering or alone in the world, visit them. It’s not rocket science! But it’s not easy. I think part of the reason love has gotten so confused for us is that we’re pretty much always thinking about ourselves. We are always in the mode of “what’s in it for me?” But that’s not the kind of love the Bible teaches us. The kind of love that Jesus modeled for us and that the Apostles taught us to practice is a kind of love that simply gives to another person—without any wish to get anything in return.

From this perspective, love is what you do when you really care enough about another human being to set your needs and wants and feelings and expectations aside—and simply give yourself to them by what you do.[3] Whether it’s feeding the hungry, or clothing the poor, or comforting the sick and dying—or just listening to your spouse enough to really hear him or her—to love another person means to give of yourself to that person without thinking about “what am I going to get out of this?” In the 16th century, the translators commissioned by King James translated “love” with the word “charity.”[4] They were following the lead of the ancient scholars who translated the Bible into Latin, who used the word caritas. While “charity” has implications that may be misleading, the basic idea is one of relating to other people with genuine, heartfelt care and compassion.

In our lesson for today, St. Paul says that loving your neighbor means that you do no harm to others (Rom. 13:10). In this he may have been echoing the famous Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the whole of torah in a kind of “negative golden rule”: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is explanation.” The idea is that when we can look at another human being with true compassion, we’re not going to do that person harm. Rather, if it is truly compassion that we feel, we will seek their good in so far as it is possible for us to do so. As Jesus put it, we’re going to “do unto others as we would have others do unto us.”

In our society we tend to think of fulfillment as a matter of getting everything we want in life. But the truly spiritual sages throughout history have told us in many ways that the true path to fulfillment in this life is through giving yourself away in service to others.[5] It seems to me that if we find happiness elusive, perhaps one place to look is at our practice of love for others. “Loving” others as a means of getting what we want may provide short-term benefits, but in the long term it’s not going to be a prescription for happiness. I think we will only find genuine, lasting happiness in this life if we can learn to relate to others with genuine care and compassion, and really give ourselves to them. I think we can only find fulfillment in life if we can learn to practice the “charity” which never fails.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/4/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562, which defines loving your neighbor as yourself in terms of showing “patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness” to all, even your enemies (Heid Cat 4.107)! It means to “work for the good of my neighbor wherever I can and may” (4.111).

[3] Cf. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, 25: “Perfect love is not an emotion; it is not how we feel. It is what we do. Perfect love is action that is not wrapped up in self-regard, and it has no concern with deserving. Instead, perfect love is love poured out. It is self-offering made out of the joy of giving. It requires no prompting. It seeks no response and no reward.” Cf. also N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” New Interpreters Bible 10:724

[4] Cf. Encylopedia Britannica, s. v. “Charity.”

[5] Tutu and Tutu, Made for Goodness, 34: “selflessness opens a door to real peace.” Cf. also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 31-39; Frederick Schmidt, What God Wants for your Life, 169, 179-88; and Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 98-99, 103-4.

Embracing Evil
Rom. 12:9-21[1]
It seems like everybody’s always angry with somebody these days. It’s so easy to get angry these days—all you have to do is turn on the TV, or listen to the news in your car, or scan the headlines on the internet, or even just overhear a conversation at Starbucks! We as a people are facing problems that pose serious threats to us all—even to the extent of losing our jobs and our homes! It’s no wonder so many people are so angry about so many things. While anger may make us feel more powerful in the face of overwhelming obstacles, it does not enable us to find solutions. When we’re angry, we inevitably look at our “opponents” with contempt—even if we’re good at keeping it hidden.
So how do we respond to the issues in this world that get under our skin? Oppression, injustice, deception, manipulation, violence. We really cannot just sit back and ignore what is going on if we truly believe in justice and peace and freedom, can we? If we turn to the Apostle Paul for help here, he says we’re to “hate evil” (Rom. 12:9). Surely that means we should do everything within our power to fight against it! But I think we have to be careful here. He also says we’re not to repay anyone evil for evil, and that we’re to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). While it sounds pretty straightforward in theory, in practice I think it’s anything but that![2]
Last week we talked about a book called Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, by Paul F. Knitter. He uses insights from his study of Buddhism to re-frame Christian faith. We talked about how the Buddhist greeting, “Namasté,” is a way of acknowledging that everyone we meet has all the same goodness that is in us. And when we acknowledge that, it enables us to relate to others with genuine compassion. This way of looking at things also has implications for our attitude toward evil. If we can recognize that others have all the goodness we have, we also have to recognize that we have the same capacity for evil as those whose actions we abhor.
Professor Knitter illustrates this principle with a story from his life. In the 1980’s, he and his wife were very active in the efforts to end the violence in Central America and to promote justice and peace in several countries. He tells the story about how he took a retreat with a Zen teacher in preparation for a trip to El Salvador in 1987. He told the teacher he wanted to do his part to stop the death squads, but he also felt the need for meditation. And the Zen master responded, “they are both absolutely necessary. You have to sit (in meditation). You have to stop the death squads. But you won’t be able to stop the death squads until you realize your oneness with them.”[3]
He relates how at first he didn’t understand this. But it sank in over the following years as he carried out his convictions in working for peace and justice, and he saw the smugness of the activists, their anger over the wrongs, their hatred of the death squads, and their contempt toward governments and others who seemed to respond ineffectually. And he realized that all of those attitudes were in themselves forms of violence. They were seeking to end the violence in Central America, but they were going about it with violence in their own hearts!
When we oppose those who do evil in our world with anger, we are more likely to perpetuate the evil they do. So how then do we respond to evil? In the same way Jesus did. Jesus knew that only the willingness to respond to hostility with peace, to respond to hatred with forgiveness, can redeem evil.[4] I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said those who want to follow him would have to take up their cross (Matt. 16:24).[5] He was calling us all to follow his pattern of responding to evil by not retaliating, but by embracing those who do evil with mercy and kindness and forgiveness. It’s the way Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and countless other black South Africans responded to the white South Africans who had committed unspeakable atrocities against them. That’s what it means to overcome evil with good! We can only truly overcome evil if we can embrace the “evildoers” with compassion.[6]
I’m not sure there’s a calling in human experience that’s more challenging than embracing those we consider evil with compassion. I’m not sure it’s possible to do that without “denying self”—setting aside all the selfish ego needs we have. [7] Only when we can get outside ourselves can we truly relate to those who do evil in our world in a way that has the chance of overcoming evil with good. Only when we can embrace those who do evil in our world with genuine love can we hope to respond to what they do in a way that will bring real change—responding to violence with forgiveness, responding to hatred with compassion, responding to hostility with peace.[8] When we do, we have the chance to change not only what they do but more importantly who they are. As we embrace those who do evil, we have the chance to make a change that can create peace and justice and freedom. [9]

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/28/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in New Interpreters Bible 10: 715, where he says that God’s people are to meet the evil in the world “ in the way that even God met it: with love and generous goodness.” Cf. also James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 752.
[3] Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, 173.
[4] Cf. PC (USA) Study Catechism, q. 45: “An abyss of suffering” has been “swallowed up by the suffering of divine love.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 91, 95; Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 246, 277.
[5] M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” New Interpreters Bible 8:350-52.
[6] Cf. Knitter, Without Buddha, 188, where he cautions that even the act of calling others “evildoers” can preclude our ability to respond to them in a way that creates justice and peace and freedom. Contrast Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.2.713-14, where he recognizes the general application of some of what Paul is advocating, but essentially reserves it for the Christian community. Cf. also ibid., 4.2.805: “the neighbour as the one who in Christian love is loved is the fellow-man who stands to the one who loves in the historical context of the existence of the community of Jesus Christ. He is not the fellow-man as such, but this particular fellow-man.” I could not disagree more.
[7] Cf. Knitter, Without Buddha, 184, 198, he defines these as the need for recognition, for success, for control, and for superiority.
[8] Cf. R. Jewett, Romans : A Commentary, 779, observes that in the context of a global mission in which love has the power to transform all humankind, “even a cup of water given to the thirsty becomes a means of expressing the love of Christ and thus extending the realm of divine righteousness.” Cf. also Cf. John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, 477, where he says that the one who “attempts to overcome evil with evil, may perhaps surpass his enemy in doing injury, but it is to his own ruin.”
[9] Knitter, Without Buddha, 183-84. He relates this to Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder that if we want to make peace, we have to be peace. Cf. also ibid., 197.