February 24, 2019

7th Sunday after the Epiphany

Genesis 45:1-15
Luke 6:27-38


One of the most talked about television show on these days is Married at First Sight on Channel 9. It is about men and women who voluntarily enter into an arranged marriage with total strangers. 

But, people are interested in the show not only because of the concept of the show; they are interested because of the drama that this group of people have with one another. Indeed, the show is filled to the brim with dramas. There are cheating and betrayal, putting down and body shaming; rejection and abandonment. And these people have only been together for a few weeks!

Some doubt whether all the dramas that they see in the show are real. They say that some of the dramas are created by the producers to spice up the show. Even worse, some say that there are actors amongst the participants.

Whether the rumor is true or not, this show has become my guilty pleasure. Yes, I confess, I watch it. I know that it is not really a good educational show to watch. It does not really set a good example on how to build a healthy marriage or relationship.

But, this kind of show sells. It is the most watched television show in Channel 9 at the moment. And, people continue talking about it in different media platforms after every episode.

Indeed, TV producers knows that bad behaviors sell on television. Immediately after the show, there is a new drama called, Bad Mothers. And the catchphrase of the drama is: “I work wonder with husbands.” You can guess what the drama is all about. 

Friends, there are different reasons why many are hooked to this kind of show. One, people generally like to watch other people’s misery, especially from the comfort of their couch. But, there is another reason that is also relevant. I think the reason why people like to watch this kind of show because they can relate to the dramas. It reminds them about the messiness in their own life. It reminds them about their own experiences without having to live through them again.

Indeed, life can be messy. Relationship can be messy. There are skeletons that we hide in the closet.

Biblical families are no less messy than our modern families. We can see this especially in the family of Israel’s forefather, Abraham. His family too is riddled with favoritism, jealousy, threat of violence, even violence itself.

When Abraham and his wife cannot have a child, he takes Hagar, his slave, as his second wife. Hagar bears a child for Abraham and she names him, Ishmael. But Sarah, his first wife, gets jealous of her younger rival. The conflict results in Hagar and Ishmael being thrown out of the family. She and her son have to leave the safety of Abraham’s nomadic group.[1] 

The sin of jealousy continues in the family of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Isaac has twins: Esau and Jacob. But the family is plagued with favoritism: Isaac favors Esau, but his wife, Rebekah, favors Jacob. The rivalry between Esau and Jacob results in Rebekah and Jacob’s plot to steal Esau’s birthright. The betrayal enrages Esau and it breaks the family apart. Esau tries to kill Jacob who has to flee his family’s house, never to return.

But, no matter how bad their relationship is, they always find a way to reconcile with one another. It may take them tens of years, but their stories almost always end with reconciliation.

Isaac and Ishmael are reunited when they bury their father, Abraham.[2] Esau and Jacob are reconciled after both have families of their own. They are reunited again when they bury their father, Isaac.[3]

Today, we hear another story of reconciliation. This time, it is the story of Jacob’s children: Joseph and his brothers. 

Joseph is almost killed by his own brothers. He almost becomes another victim of fratricide after Abel who was murdered by his brother, Cain.[4]

But Joseph’s brothers still sell him as a slave to the Midianites who later sell him to the Egyptians.

When Joseph meets his brothers again, the table has been turned upside down. He is no longer their weak younger brother, but the most powerful man in Egypt. His power is second only to Pharaoh himself. But, even then, he does not seek vengeance, but reconciliation with his family. 

Joseph does not even ask God to punish his brothers on his behalf. He has completely forgiven them.

Hundreds of years later, Joseph’s way of reconciliation is crystalized in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus too teaches us not to ask for God’s punishment on our enemies, but to pray for them. He wants us to hope for the best for them.

Last week, we learnt that the level place where Jesus teaches means more than a location. In other parts of the Bible, a level place is a place of misery, suffering, idolatry, brokenness. 

Indeed, Jesus is teaching his disciples who are dealing with their messy and broken lives. He talks to the people who yearn for healing and wholeness and reconciliation. He offers a remedy to heal their broken life and relationship. 

But, Jesus does not only teach about non- retaliatory approach to a conflict. He is not only teaching about non- violence. He asks for more. He wants us to pray and search for the well-being of those who seek to harm us.

He does not ask us to look for ways that will only benefit us in conflicts. He wants us to find ways that will benefit both parties: us and our enemies. He wants us to find ways that even our enemies will also find healing and wholeness. For him, reconciliation can only be achieved when all parties are healed.

Indeed, at the foundation of Jesus’ teaching is his belief of who God is. For him, God is the God who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35 – NRSV). 

Being kind here, however, does not mean “to approve”. God never approves evil. But, God still seeks for the well-being and the best interest of those who have done evil things.[5] After all, they too are God’s children and Jesus dies for them.

Likewise, we are to have God as the foundation of how we relate to others. We are to be “merciful, just as (our) Father is merciful” (Luke 7:36 - NRSV). 

The Greek word that is translated as “merciful” is better translated as “compassionate”.[6] To be merciful is what a superior does to his/her subordinate. To be merciful, one has to be above the other. But being compassionate is about being with the other. Literally, to be compassionate means to feel with the other.

May we too have the ability to feel with those who hate us; those who seek our downfall. May we too be compassionate, just like our Father in heaven is.

In the morning of July 7, 2005, an Australian doctor was running late for work. She was in a rush when she took the train. Inside the same carriage, standing just meters away from her, was a 19-year old man. The young man happened to be a suicide bomber.

When he detonated the bomb, he did not only take his own life, but also the lives of 26 others. But, the doctor survived. Her two legs were mangled and would later be amputated, but she managed to treat herself. When she was rescued, she was badly burned that no one knew whether she was a male or a female.

She is understandably angry and frustrated by her condition. But, she somehow manages to channel her anger into something positive. Instead of demonizing the suicide bomber who took her legs, she refuses to see him as a monster. She sees him as who he was: a young man whose mind had been perverted by extremist ideology.

So, she began her journey. She uses her first-hand experience with terrorism to bring the message of peace and reconciliation. She reaches out to those who hold extreme ideological view. She wants to build bridges, not walls.

In the wake of Lindt cafe siege, she and others literally built a ‘human’ bridge in the Opera House. They called for more communication and understanding between all groups in Australia.

Her name is Gill Hicks and she is a London-bombing survivor. But, she is more than a survivor. She is an ambassador of peace who wants to use her experience to make the world a better place for her and her enemies.

Jesus says that those who follow his teaching are like those who go to a market to buy some grains. The merchant fills the measuring container with the grains. He then shakes it so that all empty spaces in the container are filled with grains. He then pours everything in the container onto the apron of the buyer.[7]

Likewise, those who follow Jesus’ teaching will have an abundant life. But, abundance here is not about material possession. Those who follow Jesus’ teaching will have a life that is deeply fulfilled and overflowing with joy.

Toby Keva

[1] Genesis 21:8-21.

[2] Genesis 25:8-9.

[3] Genesis 35:28-29.

[4] Genesis 4:1-18.

[5] Ronald J. Allen, Commentary on Luke 6:27-38, on www.workingpreacher.org (February 24, 2019).

[6] From a sermon by Jim Somerville on www.asermonforeverysunday.com (C13 The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C [2019]).

[7] See Ronald J. Allen, Commentary on Luke 6:27-38, on www.workingpreacher.org (February 24, 2019).