Paying it forward: Jesus style

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‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. …

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ — Luke 6:27-31, 37-38

Jesus taught some really hard things. Some of what he taught and clearly expected his disciples (and us) to follow were some pretty difficult things that went totally against human nature. I mean, the man really meant business. Love your enemies.” Oy! What’s more counterintuitive than to actually love someone you believe (or you definitely know) wants to hurt, enslave, control or even kill you? Love someone who wants to quash your hopes and dreams, your safety and security, even your thoughts, beliefs or autonomy?

Jesus, sometimes you ask too much.

I get that it is actually the person I’m supposed to love, not necessarily their actions, but that doesn’t really make it a whole lot easier. Most of the time it is hard to make that shift from seeing a person and their actions as a whole to separating them and seeing their actions as their response to something in their own lives, perhaps a need for power, perhaps a need to cover up horrendous events that happened to them or that they witnessed. Abusers are often grown up victims of abuse in childhood or adolescence. Despots are often people who were powerless but who have discovered and seized power. Those who enslave were often enslaved themselves in some way. Of course, there are always those who, for no apparent reason, suddenly turn into monsters and act out in some self-promoting, societally inappropriate manner. Still, there’s that command of Jesus, “Love your enemies.” Love the person, even if you hate what they do, even if what they do hurts you or someone you love. Love the person, but not necessarily what they do. Love the person. Nope, Jesus doesn’t make it easy.

Then he follows that up with “Do not judge… do not condemn.” From bad to worse. How can I live a single day without judging or condemning? That statement made by a campaigning politico, an on-the-scene-of-a-tragedy reporter, a pastor interpreting scripture in a way that I perceive as totally off-base, a murderer grinning at the camera as if to celebrate his fifteen minutes of fame, how can I keep from judging them or, in some cases, condemning them? I make judgments every day: which route to take to work, which bread to buy at the store, which traffic law to obey to the letter (and which to stretch by five miles an hour or so), whether to tell someone who asks precisely how I am feeling or whether to just say I’m fine because they might not really care all that much anyway. None of us can go a day without judging our own choices or those of others. But wait, now that I think about it, this fits in with what Jesus said before about loving, this time it includes self as well as others, it seems.

If I love myself I’m not going to go around condemning myself over every mistake or ill-considered action (or thought). I know my own motives, but, sometimes, most of the time, short of murder, who am I to try to figure out the motives of someone else? I don’t want them trying to judge me on the basis of their perception of my motives, so I’m not supposed to do that to them either. I am made in God’s image just as every other human being on the planet. The trick is to remember that when I make mistakes or I see others doing self- and other-destructive things. It’s hard to judge other people’s actions and leave their person-hood out of it, but Jesus said we should, and that “we” includes “I”, most definitely.

The movie “Pay It Forward” was based on the principle of doing something good, something nice, for someone else without expecting any thanks or rewards for doing it and then having the recipient do something for someone else like a chain reaction. It’s doing unto others in a positive sense without expecting it to be done unto me in the same positive sense. To do that requires loving, even if the person is an enemy or somebody I don’t care much for just as surely as it does for someone I love or even a total stranger. In order to love that way I have to suspend judgment and just do something good, regardless.

Yup, Jesus didn’t make it easy, but he did give instructions on something that wasn’t impossible (although it seems so at times). It’s kingdom work, and everybody is capable of contributing to that work, if they so choose. They simply have to pay it forward, Jesus-style, and then watch the kingdom grow.

I have a feeling that this is one kind of growing that makes allowances for brown thumbs. It just takes a little nurturing, a little feeding, a little paying-it-forward and there you are. Now to have the courage to actually put it in motion.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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Gary (NJ)
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Gary (NJ)

I like the pay it forward concept. Sometimes if I do a favor for someone and they ask how they can repay me, I just say, 'pay it forward, go do something nice for someone else'.

The other question/comment I have that I think might be difficult for theologians to answer is that how can we hold someone (spiritually) responsible for evil deeds if they have a defective brain? We know from science that some folks are just born sociopaths or psychopaths. It's true that nurture (upbringing) can greatly alter how these manifest, but this is still out of the child's (and future adult's) control.

Gary Calderone

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