Permission is granted

Photo by Mathilda Khoo.

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.

Jesus continues his Sermon on the Plain dropping mystical brain-breaking wisdom just as he was last week. Here are the notes I jotted down to give you the skinny…

  • Love your enemies.
  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who abuse you.
  • Lend and expect nothing in return.
  • If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.
  • From anyone who takes away your coat, why not give them your shirt?
  • Give to everyone who begs from you.
  • If anyone takes your stuff, do not ask for it back.
  • Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Loving those who love you is no big deal — anyone can do that.
  • Doing good to those who do good to you is no big deal — anyone can do that too.
  • If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, that’s no big deal either.
  • Don’t judge (then you won’t be judged).
  • Don’t condemn (then you won’t be condemned).
  • Forgive and you’ll be forgiven.
  • Give and it will be given to you.

That’s a laundry list, right there. And they can seem like commands. Well, as a postmodern, Western, individualized, liberated, privileged person, it’s easy to roll my eyes at these commands. Because they don’t make any damn sense.

We live in a world of cause and effect, right? So if someone wrongs me, I settle the score by getting back at them. If someone hits me on the cheek, I’ma try to land several strikes on their cheeks. If I give my stuff to everyone who wants it, I won’t have anything left.

You guys, this sounds all nice and peaceful and stuff, but this man is talking craziness. These aren’t bullet points to individual success, they’re shortcuts to the poorhouse. So that crazy guy Jesus can keep his lofty commands because I’m out to get mine…

But there’s gotta be something here. Let’s take a sec to flip the paradigm on this whole thing. What if the lens that we’re seeing these words through is muddy? I’m going to propose that this is not a command, but the granting of permission.

Jesus’ words are rarely commands, but rather invitations to life beyond human creaturelyness.

(Yes, creaturelyness.)

I mean, sure, you can live as our animal instincts tell us to live. That stuff is hard-wired in. But Jesus comes in at a moment where human consciousness is breaking into something new. Our frontal lobes are new, but they carry the possibility of flourishing beyond the laws of old.

Instead of seeing this sermon as a series of commands, see it as a stack of permission slips that give you the go-ahead to be a part of the renewal of the world. Because what if a critical mass of us lived like this? Then we wouldn’t lack anything or have anything (really) to fear. We’d be each other’s caregivers rather than each other’s competitors. We’d see ourselves as stewards of this planet rather than rulers over it.

These permission slips just sit there on the desk. Maybe some, you can’t stomach. I know I sure can’t. I have mouths to help feed and right now, hardly anyone is playing by these rules.

But hopefully, I can take a few of them and accept Jesus’ permission to live in this new way. Not because I’m commanded to. But because I’m invited to.