When Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you cannot have life in you,” many of his followers said, “this is a hard saying and who can take it?” And they walked with him no more.
Today’s gospel is a hard saying. It flies in the face of our way of thinking and living. We don’t let people walk all over us, we won’t be conned by panhandlers, we won’t get angry, we’ll get even, we won’t give way to pushy people, we answer anger with anger, we will forget but we won’t forgive.
Jesus quotes from the past, ‘you have heard it said’ but then calls us to something better, ‘but I say to you’. He offers us a better way, the way of conflict resolution. God knows it is not an easy way. It’s so difficult, if not impossible for us to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give more than what’s been asked of us.
Maybe these words of Jesus were meant to give the early Jewish and Gentile Christians the example they needed as they faced the hostility, anger and resentment of family and friends for their choice to follow the new way Jesus offered them.
When we stop to think about it we must admit that in the end the acid-test for Christian orthodoxy is something more than dogmas or laws, it is something more demanding, and something that lies closer to the heart of what is most unique and novel within Jesus, namely, his call to love our enemies, to not give back in kind, to wish good and do good to those who are unkind to us.
To love one’s enemy is the acid-test of who’s a Christian and who isn’t. Everything else is an old tape, simply replaying itself over and over.
We saw such Christian orthodoxy a few years ago when an Amish community in Pennsylvania found it in their hearts to forgive the man who murdered several of their daughters after taking them hostage in their one room school house. Not only did they forgive him but their holiness and the convictions of their faith led them to reach out to this man’s widow and children in sympathy and support. Would we as a parish be able to do the same?
Today’s gospel is a hard saying. Through the centuries many people found these words of Jesus impractical, unrealistic, even impossible and they walked with him no more. Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give more than what was demanded, all this is impractical, unreasonable if we try to do it trusting on our own resources. If we trust the truth that God’s help and strength and wisdom are always with us, then we can live each day doing the best we can to be an instrument of peace and justice and reconciliation and in our own limited way, “be holy as God is holy.”