Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Luke may be one of the most difficult to hear and even more challenging to follow. In our society of self-promotion and self-protection, we are told to
-love our enemies
-turn the other cheek
-do good and expect nothing in return
-forgive the seemingly unforgivable
In today’s Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers, we are given an example of what this looks like. Remember that Joseph was the favorite among twelve brothers. His father, Jacob, showed his favoritism publicly. Moreover, Joseph tells the family of his dreams where they are bowing and honoring him. The behaviors of both Jacob and Joseph stirred up such intense jealousy that the brothers plotted to kill Joseph. At his brother Reuben’s resistance, they relented and sold him into slavery instead. Joseph was around 19 at the time. Joseph was rejected, kidnapped, enslaved, and imprisoned, and yet, he served in Egypt, and he was promoted and prospered.
Throughout this time away from his family, it is repeatedly said that “God was with him.” Joseph believed this and echoed it in his words to his brothers “it was not you who sent me here but God.” Joseph understood that the goodness of God underscores all of our experiences. Joseph saw the difficulties and cruelties he experienced as opportunities for discipline and growth. When Joseph meets with his brothers again, 20 years have passed. However, with a strong sense of purpose and a desire to serve others as if serving God, Joseph harbors no bitterness or resentment. He has been humbled by his circumstances and allows his life experiences to be places of discipline and growth. He meets his brothers again, and he kisses them, weeps on them, and they talk with him in intimate fellowship and friendship. He expresses an incomprehensible love for his brothers. They sent him away to destroy him; he returns to save them.
The story of Joseph’s time in Egypt reminded me of an article I read about a man named Charles Rodgers who lives in Florida with his two-year-old daughter. He works as an HVAC technician and salesman. He has a degree in Christian ministry and counseling and speaks to churches and organizations about social reform. At the time of the article interview Charles Rodgers was 39 years old. But, like Joseph, at age 19, his life was entirely different. He was a young man born into a life of foster care and abuse. He lived in a dangerous neighborhood with a poor school system. He blamed the world and took no responsibility. He is quoted saying, “Crime wasn’t difficult for me because I felt like the victim.”
After his best friend was shot and killed, he set out for revenge armed and ready. Before he could get revenge, he was arrested and imprisoned. At age 20, he said, “he felt worthless like his life had no value, and yet at the same time he had a desire to prove otherwise.” Rogers said that prison gave him chances to change his life. In his view, his arrest saved lives, including his own. He used his time in prison for discipline and growth. He began challenging authority with both the prisoner hierarchy and the prison staff. He learned about himself. He learned that when he was “treated like a human, he wanted to be more humane. And, when he was treated like an animal, he acted like an animal. He also learned that “the smarter prisoners studied human behavior and learned how to “not fight” while still maintaining respect.”
1st Corinthians tells us, “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust; we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” Rodgers, it seems, understood his duel nature. He understood there was something more than what he saw in himself and desired to cultivate it.
Rodgers said he would put himself in places where professionals who visited the prison were and mimic their behavior. He began volunteering for the Hospice program at Angola prison. He edited the prison newspaper and was able to create in the prison woodshop. After several appeals, his record in prison, letters of restitution to victims, and victim support for his release, he was discharged, having served 17 years of his 35-year sentence. I hear this story, and I cannot help but think. God was with Charles Rodgers, molding and forming him into the man he is today.
“Prison wasn’t great but I made it what I needed it to be to maintain my sanity and obtain my freedom.”
Charles and Joseph, both as young adults, used strength and courage as they allowed their 20 years in captivity to help mold and shape them to be the men God created them to be. Life did not go well for either of these young men, yet they used the systems of their captivity to grow and become men who would make life better for others.
Jesus’ sermon on the plain tells us to be like Charles and Joseph. Love those who hurt us. Do good for the sake of good, turn the other cheek and forgive at all cost. In my notes, I wrote next to turn the other cheek the words “defiant love.”
For me, the struggle with “turn the other cheek’ is that it seems so completely unfair. It seems weak and unassertive, like not standing up to a bully. But if I think of it as defiant love like the men in the stories told today. I hear strength and courage.
Defiant love is transformational love.
It changes us and those around us. It sees the dual nature of people and recognizes the struggle we all have.
I think Charles and Joseph are perfect examples of turning the other cheek. There was nothing submissive about their lives in captivity. They began as young men, not understanding the strength and power they possessed, but they grew into it as they served others. They loved defiantly.
The psalm today tells us, “take delight in the Lord and he will give you your hearts desire.”
The head knows what we want, but the heart knows what we need.
Defiant love doesn’t give us what we want; it gives us what we need.
We want to be the favored son,
but we need family unity.
We want to separate the good from the bad,
but we need to recognize equal humanity.
We want others to get what we think they deserve,
but we need to help heal the world.
We want revenge,
but we need reconciliation.
The people of Jesus’ day wanted a king, but Jesus, in his defiant love, gave them a servant.
Just as we have been born in the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
How will you love defiantly today?
1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50