Summary: Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. However, fulfillment of the law requires complete love for others (even our enemy); only then are we complete/perfect.
Just about a year ago, the movie 42 came out. It captures the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. It’s a really great movie for all sorts of reasons, and if you haven’t seen it, then I recommend you do, if for no other reason than the fact that in the midst of the movie, Brooklyn Dodgers Manager, Branch Rickey, declares God to be a Methodist!
In any case, I want to share with you a particular scene from that movie, a scene that truly played out in Jackie Robinson’s life. I’m speaking of the moment when Robinson and Rickey first talked about Robinson coming to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rickey asks, "What do you think, Jackie? Do you got guts enough to play the game no matter what happens? They'll shout insults at you. They'll come into you spikes first. They'll throw at your head."
"They've been throwing at my head for a long time, Mr. Rickey," Robinson responds.
As the conversation continues, Rickey fabricates a scenario: "Suppose I'm a player on the eve of an important game. Suppose I collide with you at second base, and when I get up I say, 'You dirty black so-and-so.' What do you do?"
"Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back?" Robinson asks.
Rickey answers insistently, "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back. You've got to do the job with base hits, stolen bases, and fielding ground balls, Jackie. Nothing else. Now, I'm playing you in the World Series, and I'm hotheaded. I want to win the game. So I go into you spikes first. You jab the ball in my ribs and the umpire says 'out'. All I can see is your black face, that black face right over me. So I haul off and punch you right in the cheek. What do you do?"
Robinson calmly thinks for a moment, then answers, "Mr. Rickey, I've got two cheeks."
As the conversation comes to a close and Jackie is preparing to leave Mr. Rickey’s office, Mr. Rickey stops him and says, “Remember one thing, Jackie. No matter what happens on the ball field, you can’t fight back…you can’t fight back.”
Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson knew the only way they would be successful in breaking the race-barrier in major league baseball was if they didn’t fight back against the resistance they knew they were going to receive. But the thing is, this wasn’t really a new way of living; they were simply following the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, who 2,000 years earlier stepped up on a mountainside to preach to the crowds around him because he knew if those people put anything but love first in their lives, then God would not be made known in the world.
The problem is, we hear these words from Jesus, and we consider his imperatives impossible to follow. Turn the other cheek. Go the second mile. Love your enemies. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Can Jesus be serious? This is crazy talk. But the thing is, Jesus wouldn’t command something of us that wasn’t possible. And besides, our faith assures us that in God ALL things are possible. So the question for us is, what do we make of these words we hear this morning from Jesus?
As Christ-followers, we are all about being Christians as long as it involves potlucks, baptisms, and weddings. We really like being Christians at Christmas. We even like being Christians at a funeral. But we don’t so much want to be Christians when its time to turn a cheek, give away a cloak, go the second mile, give to a worthy beggar, or loan everything we have to anyone who wants it. This sounds like complete foolishness to us. And so we listen to these words from Jesus and we decide that these are really just spiritual directions, aimed at our souls, not at the actual way we live our lives, which may require hoarding, bombing our enemies, and generally being selfish slackers. Then that’s how we live; without even thinking about, as if Jesus’s teachings, his life, and death, and resurrection, mean nothing. All the while, we go about the “easy” path of Christianity full of covered-dish dinners and weddings thinking we’ve got it made!
But here’s the thing. Jesus didn’t call us to just to show up for worship on Sunday mornings, or to only study the scripture in the weekly Bible study. Jesus didn’t tell us to “go forth and win the chili cook-off,” or the church softball championships. Jesus said, “be perfect.” And perfection doesn’t mean always choosing the right fork at the dinner table, or praying a “proper” prayer (as if there is such a thing). Perfection means loving as God loves, with every single breath God gives us.