“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [Albert Einstein]
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus confronts the systemic evils in society around Him, vicious cycles that spiral out of control and take everyone and everything with them. The insidious thing about these cycles is that they are self-perpetuating; revenge leads to retaliation leads to revenge; inconsistency and deception only lead to more inconsistency and deception; lust leads to dehumanizing of others which leads to more lust and objectification and so on. In the midst of these cycles, one emotion is always constant: hopelessness. It’s as though dreaming of a better world has stopped because that’s what these cycles do - convince those involved that there are no other options, that violence is the only viable solution to violence, that somehow, we can get out of a lie by telling another one.
But it never works. And it’s almost like nobody notices.
Like there’s no way out.
But Jesus came to redeem the world, the catalyst in God’s plan of re-creation, to make all things new, to set the captives free, release the prisoners, declare the year of the Lord’s favor. If that’s true, that means that there must be a way out of these cycles. Which brings me back to the Sermon. Jesus tells us about the cycle (“you have heard it said”) and then introduces the way out (“but I say to you”).
So how does one break a vicious cycle?
In each of the cycles, people buy into the system as victims, as passive participants; things happen *to* them. But for Jesus, we’re not supposed to sit back; people who sit back and let things happen are actually perpetuating the systems as much as those who want to keep oppression in place. For Jesus, it’s like there’s no moral neutral; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And so every solution Jesus proposes has something in common: action.
A catalyst is required in the midst of every cycle to begin restoration. To paraphrase Einstein (see above), to continue doing what we’ve always done and expect something to change would be insane; something new is needed, and in every circumstance Jesus’ solution is counter-intuitive. In the cycle of violence and retaliation, love for the enemy is prescribed. It’s never suggested that we are capable of this on our own. Love - the kind that can love an enemy - comes through and from the One who IS love. Yet love is an action; to take care of one’s enemy makes absolutely no sense if you’ve grown up steeped in a culture of revenge. Nobody loves their enemy - that’s why they’re enemies.
But Jesus says this must end. He calls us to act, in the power and character of the Spirit who set us free. So love your enemy. Pray for them. Take care of them when they need it.
Because love takes action.