Find that Child

the boy Jesus?
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeryjl/511063411/">James Emery</a>

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem (in the West Bank) while Herod was king, diplomats from somewhere in the “-stans” came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where are you hiding the new Israeli king? A rogue satellite signal suggests that he’s here, and we’ve come to establish diplomatic relations.”

When King Herod heard this, he was outraged, and not just Herod, but all Jerusalem. He gathered his top advisors and asked, “What’s this about a new king? And where is he?”

They told him, “Probably in Bethlehem. That’s where the truth-tellers are saying: ‘Bethlehem in the West Bank, you’re not as insignificant as you think! That’s where the leader of the uprising will come from.'”

So Herod called for the diplomats, and found out what their intelligence said. And then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and find this prodigy, and then let me know, too, so I can also establish relations with him.”

Hearing this, they set out, following their satellite signal until its coordinates lined up with where the child was. And when they saw they were in the right place, trembling with excitement, they went in and found the child, with his mother, Mary. They followed their protocol for meeting with a great leader, and then presented gifts: money, medicine, and medical supplies. And, being warned in a secret cable, not to return to Herod, they left for their own country in secret.

The situation in the West Bank today is every bit as charged as it was when Jesus was growing up there. Imagine what kind of international chaos would break out if diplomats from the Taliban approached Prime Minister Netanyahu wanting to know where to find the new Palestinian rebel leader – because they had “reliable intelligence” unavailable to Israel.

That’s this story. And whose to say the Israelis wouldn’t send in the crack troops to take out all the Palestinian kids in Bethlehem if they thought it was a matter of national security?

Never mind that historians of that day, Josephus and the rest, never mention these actual events taking place. The story Matthew tells sets the stage for us to understand the issues Jesus came to address, and to help us understand why the movement Jesus started was so different from the regimes in power.

And why it was so feared by them. And why they used such brutal and excessive force to put it down.

Understand this story, and you’ll understand everything from the police response to OWS, to the pictures coming out of Egypt, to the modern Chinese response to dissidents.

Find that child, and you’ll have found the key to a whole new world.

[Hint: Which child in your neighborhood is the one they don’t want to make it to adulthood? That’s the one you’re looking for.]

The Hardest Commandment

I'd like to see you love MY neighborMatthew 5:43-48

You’ll recall the old law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say love your enemy, wish the best for those who persecute you. That’s what marks you as God’s children.

The sun comes up every day for good and bad alike. And rain gets everyone wet, righteous or wicked.

If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. And if you say hello only to the people you already know and like, that’s totally unremarkable. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry does that.

Stand out! And you will show people how limitless God’s love for everyone is really is.

Lets be clear. There isn’t a law in the Hebrew scriptures that says, “Hate your enemy.” Jesus is clearly referring to Leviticus 19:17-18, which says:

You shall not bear hatred in your heart for your family. You call your neighbor out when you see something wrong, but you’re not to take revenge or hold a grudge. Rather you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But just because it’s not what the law says, doesn’t mean people won’t interpret it that way. Keeping that kind of law isn’t hard at all. It’s what comes naturally, quid pro quo, all of that. A lot of people like that kind of easy law. But, as is sometimes said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless.

What Jesus is asking is much harder. In fact, this is the hardest commandment: Love your enemy. Because, in fact, most of the time when we have enemies, those enemies are are our neighbors. Consider: why is it that it’s often much easier to give $20 to a charity helping people somewhere half way around the globe (victims of earthquakes and famines, for example), but so much harder to help people just across town when the mill shuts down?

The people we are most likely to be at odds with are the people we interact with on a regular basis, our neighbors (if we even know who they are) and our families. Thus, Leviticus. It starts with not holding grudges against those who are closest to you. And not taking revenge on those who have hurt you, who are also more likely to be people nearby. Notice that neither Jesus nor Leviticus says you should be a doormat. “Call your neighbor out.” But that’s it. After that, they’re still your neighbor. Let it go.

Granted: letting go, not holding grudges, not harboring resentment – it’s not easy. Then again, doing something truly remarkable is always hard.

[Bonus observation: If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. Herein lies Jesus’ ticket for anyone who wants to be a good politician – and it just might win elections, too. So much for pandering to the religious right (or left).]