CMC Eps 17 – MATTHEW 5: 10-12 – CHOICE

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Hi.. I’m Gene Ort.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary..

This is podcast #17..  We will be looking at MATTHEW 5:10-12

The title for this podcast is: “ Choice ”

Here is the verse : ““count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”

Matthew 5:10-12 MSG

We are still setting on the hillside with Jesus as he paints a picture of what life looks like for those who follow God and are a citizen of His Kingdom. We have seen how he teaches using paradox and principals instead of bullet points of rules. He has shown us the living outcomes of what happens when you live in close relationship to God. This verse is no different except the outcome has an adverse side effect. Persecution.

Persecution is defined as hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race, political or religious beliefs.

One of the paradoxical ways of looking at this verse is to assume that just because you are experiencing negative pushback against your ideas or behaviors, you must be doing something right or good. This is clearly not true. The pushback Jesus is describing is in direct response to you living out the character of Christ. As a Christ follower you will by nature of the character of Christ in you, speak out against oppression and injustice when ever you encounter it, because that is the heart of God. It doesn’t mean you react with violence or abuse of your own or counter with smug religious superiority. 

I have heard this phrase being tossed around recently : “What does love require of me ?”

That’s an interesting Idea. Does love require an action ? 

Here is an easy one, you see a small child fall while riding their bicycle, your immediate reaction is to come to their aid.  That’s what love requires in the moment. Whether it’s your child or someone else’s. 

Not so easy one.. when a friend, coworker, teacher or family member says something ugly and accusatory about another friend, coworker, teacher or family member, what do you do.. what does love require of you in this circumstance ? What if it’s a racial bias or slur? What about a sexist or objectifying comment ? What does love require of you then ?

There is this thing…called bystander syndrome. Also known as bystander effect : The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological theory that states that individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people present; the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that one of them will help.

I am no psychologist, or sociologist but this seems pretty true in some ways and not so true in others. 

I don’t know if it’s just the crowd I hang with or a mid west thing but I have witnessed many people coming to the aid of someone in crisis. My wife saved a babies life in a campground once when it was choking. There were lots of people around, watching. She went straight for the child and intervened. Cherry tomatoes still make me nervous in the hands of small children. 

A close friend launched a ministry called The Rhema Project in India to save the lives of infant baby girls after learning about and encountering female infanticide. Had he not chosen to be present, hundreds if not thousands of baby girls would not currently be alive. I have a long list of kindnesses I have witnessed, both great and small.

A short time ago we all watched video of a group of public servants who stood by and watched while a fellow public servant killed a man.  I wonder what was going through their minds at the time. They have now been charged in some way with a crime.  I thinks it’s easy for me to say from my cheap seat, that : “ What love would have required of me” would have been intervention of some kind.  Intervention .. It takes courage to intervene. In some cases a lot of it. What were those by-standing officers experiencing. My money is on fear. They were afraid to respond, to intervene. But what were they afraid of? Maybe the hesitation of one fed the hesitation of the others until it all builds into a full blown avalanche of inaction … with a tragic outcome. If any of those present could have foreseen the consequences of those inactions, I am quite certain things would have gone differently. Some where in the middle of all that, courage, wisdom and compassion should have rose up. But it did not. 

I think I am subject to the same kind of bystander effect sometimes. I look around to see how others are reacting to circumstances and gauge my response accordingly. I wonder if I can justify almost any behavior based on the idea that thats what I saw everyone else doing. Yet, the most celebrated people in all of history are the ones who defiantly stand up to the bullies, and jump into action while everyone else still has their hands in their pockets. 

Most of us have heard of this saying from mothers everywhere..  “if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too ?”  The principle of not being a blind follower is probably more important than we are ready to admit. 

I don’t like this part of the human educational experience. More of what we know and base our behaviors on has been caught than taught.  Accidental verses intentional. For character, good or bad to be transferred from one person to another, it seems to require close proximity. 

You don’t seem to get the good stuff by accident, but you can get plenty of the bad stuff by pure luck of the draw. 

I was raised in the 60’s in the Midwest of America. I was always warm and fed.. but there was also a lot of violence, alcoholism, racism and sexism around. It was automatic and systemic. But that doesn’t mean I have to keep living there. But, changing your mind about things is not easy work. Especially when your ideals came early and from an unchosen source. We don’t get to pick our family of origin, our race, our sex, our nationality, our time in history.. not much of anything actually. Even parts of our personality seemed to be hard wired from birth. 

At this point, I would like to point out that the people setting on the hillside with Jesus could have been doing something else that day. Anything else. They were there by choice, and choices always have consequences.

Here is a quote I read recently by Ravi Zacharias ( who recently passed away ) where he stated the following, “God gives us the most sacred gift of the prerogative of choice. But, God does NOT give you the privilege of determining a different outcome to what the choice will entail.  The consequences are bound to the choice.”

Lets look at a key element of the verse again. : You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”

A paraphrase :  When you are living in close proximity to God, His very nature visible to you and inspiring you, you will take on His character, you will not only proclaim the good things you have received from him like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control and long suffering but you will also feel compelled to confront the wrong when you see it. Injustice of every kind. Oppression,  domination, racism, sexism, objectification. In short, dehumanization of any and every kind. When you experience the push back, you will be drawn even closer to God, your father for comfort and truth.

Much of the world’s current attention at this moment is focused on racism.  As a child of God, I see God’s heart being broken over the way his children are treating each other.  There is something very wrong here.

Imagine a parent witnessing an intense and disagreeable encounter between two grown children. When at one point one child strikes a life threatening blow to the other sending them unconscious to the hospital and on life support.

Assuming the parent in this story loved both grown children, they would feel the dilemma of compassion for both children. On one hand, the compassion for the wounded child would be direct, obvious and unopposed. But there would also be a kind of care for the other child. A heartbreak of another kind wondering what was so wrong in them that they could resort to violence, even deadly force. Both views are filled with compassion. 

I think this is close to what I feel like when I witness brutality anywhere in the world. It begs the question, what is so broken in the way people think and feel. Sometimes it’s dumbfounding. Things like people kidnapping children and selling them into sex trafficking. 4.8 million people are currently trapped in forced sexual slavery around the globe. The list of atrocities seems endless. 

Why does any thing like this continue to exist ? Because the will to stop it is not strong enough. It’s always somebody else’s problem. 

In order for these kinds of things to happen, people have to resort or succumb to the dehumanization of other people. Even cruelty to animals falls into a kind of basket of confused and diminished understanding of the value of life. Not to forget disguised poisoning of the planet and all of it’s resources for profit and convenience at the cost of diminished health for all of its inhabitants.

Speaking out against any kind of dehumanization will get you into trouble in this world. People will fight and fight hard to preserve their way of thinking and their way of life. Even if they don’t really know why they think the way they think. Our own civil war baring witness to how hard people will fight to maintain a way of life based on the dehumanization of other people.

Institutions, organizations and systems can often benefit greatly from things staying the same. Maintaining the status quo might be very good for the bottom line.   Self preservation becomes the dominate concern.

Any one who says anything that might threaten that paradigm will quickly feel the push back. 

People can also become very hostile towards other people and their ideas when they don’t fully understand why they believe what they say they believe. The confrontation threatens their unstable belief system and causes fear. That Fear leads to all kinds of reactions.. and reactions are always poor substitutes for responses. 

To quote another verse.. “don’t think it strange when a fiery trial comes upon you..” if you speak out for the exploited, the exploiter will fight back.

So Jesus tells his audience.. that they are blessed when all this happens.. for some of us, thats not a lot of comfort. We just want to live a quiet and peaceful life. For others, it lights the fires of activism and they take to the streets, signs and candles in hand. I am guessing there is room for and need for both perspectives. 

In one parable Jesus has a Samaritan traveler coming to the aid of a victim of crime to show us what real humanity is supposed to look like. In another account, he clears a courtyard of corrupt money changers. There is no sign of passivity in either story. Some of Jesus harshest comments were reserved for oppressive religious leaders. 

Here is another part of the passage : “You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Jesus seems to be going to the next level with these words to help his hearers to understand how important this is. It’s an I’m proud of you proclamation ! Then he equates his followers willingness to speak out for the oppressed with all of the Old Testament profits who were their super hero’s. And then He says this… “and all heaven applauds “. When I gave this time to sink in a little, I was takin aback.    “ Heaven applauding .. really ? I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to the drama’s of earth being witnessed by heaven. And by heaven, does that mean God and His angels or does that include loved ones who are there before us ? Jesus told the thief on the cross : “ today, you will be with me in paradise “.. most interpret that as heaven. I don’t have an answer for the question. But clearly Jesus is indicating there are heavenly witnesses to our actions and our inactions. 

I hear Jesus trying to comfort his followers, God’s children.  He knows what’s coming. For himself and his children and it’s not pretty. Persecution will visit him soon enough and culminate in his crucifixion. Persecution will follow his believers as well. It wont be long before Niro will do his evil to what was then called “ followers of the way.” This level of dehumanization is hard to grasp. Right thinking human beings wonder at the unrestrained cruelty.

I know that many people have a very hard time with all of this. The question, why would God create a planet where things like this can happen has no concrete answer. But it is apparent that our Heavenly Father created us with the power to choose. It’s not a pretend power to choose. God is not puppet-ing us. People can choose to do the most evil of things, but they can also choose to live lovingly. The myriad decisions we all make everyday have outcomes. Ignore the bad ones at your own peril or enjoy the fruit of the good ones. Much of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with instructions on how to make good choices that will have better consequences. But, we also get to live with the consequences of each other’s choices, and that can get complicated really fast.

Jesus adds this thought “ The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.” Thats from the message version. I think what Eugene Peterson was trying to get across was that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Part of a new kingdom, the kingdom of God on earth. Yes, there will be suffering.. some of it will be from persecution.. but suffering can have the effect of driving us closer to God. Not that God is ever far away from us, He is as close as our breath. Moving toward Him is our choice. All people experience suffering. With some of them, it makes them bitter.. others suffer and it makes them better. Jesus wants us to remember, we are not ever really alone. All of heaven is cheering us on. 

Well thats enough to think about for now..

Until next time ..  I am Gene Ort and Thank you for listening to the common man commentary. 

I’D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH This “ blessing :

Love God. Love Yourself. Love the next person He puts in front of you.