Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -- Romans 12:9-21Oy. I have to confess that this is one of the passages that gives me heartburn. I know that it is an ideal and I don't think it was really all Paul's idea, but his list is pretty daunting.
Love, the genuine kind and not just the fairy-tale "happily ever after" is the stuff that means that I love someone else more than I love myself. I must be more dedicated to their well-being and honor than my own, and, if my love is genuine, it is no struggle or strain to be so dedicated.
It's easy for me to love lovable people; likewise it is nearly impossible to love unlovable ones. I've never met Desmond Tutu, but I love him. He is a good man and obviously one of God's particularly chosen ones. I've never met the across-the-road neighbor whose penchant for loud parties is so annoying or the dude with the big honkin' pickup truck with the big honkin' subwoofers rattling my house as he drives by, but I have a really hard time even liking them much less loving them. Yet by Paul's standard, I'm supposed to love them despite the fact that they put my nerves on edge, upset my cats and rattle my windows, doors and floors. I wonder what Paul would have made of them?
It's hard not to want to see some folks get what I think is coming to them. No, I don't believe in capital punishment but there are times I cheerfully contemplate creative ways of allowing a specific person or persons to experience first hand martyrdom by pinpricks (or maybe claw marks). That's not what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm supposed to be forgiving of things that hurt me, understanding of people who lash out in frustration and hit me even though I had nothing to do with the original aggravation, and I'm supposed to honor those small achievements of someone else as if they were the winners of the Nobel prize. I confess I can't put too many check marks on the list of Paul's positives but I can put an awful lot of x's next to the negatives.
Somehow I don't think Paul could completely live up to his own list. I don't see how he could and still be human, but he was writing to a church that needed an example to follow, and the letter got left as part of our legacy to be an example for us as well.
Reading the passage, I hear the sound of the English of the KJV recited in the voice and accent of the veddy British dean of King's College Cambridge, "Rendah to no man e-vil for e-vil." It makes that part of Paul's exhortation an ear-worm that circles 'round and 'round in my head. Perhaps that is the genius of it: a whole set of laws and practices reduced to a soundbyte that sums up the whole in a way that is easily and quickly retrievable in time of need.
I have a feeling I will hear that ear worm for the next day or so. I hope so, anyway, because in that period of time I am sure I will run into one of the unlovable, haughty, un-honorable, downright aggravating and egotistical people I have been enjoined to love, honor, serve and try to both understand and accept as a friend, fellow human being and God's beloved child.
I think it's a tall order. God help me.