Apr 10 - Getting Over Hate and Resentment

Getting Over Hate and Resentment

Apr 10, 2016

Matthew 5:43-48 Luke 6:27-36

 

 

 

GETTING OVER HATE AND RESENTMENT

April 10th, 2016

Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36

 

We are continuing on in the Sermon on the Mount, where we left off before Easter.  We are in the last passage in Matthew 5, beginning at v. 43.  I have also included the parallel verses recorded in Luke 6. 

 

In a sense, these verses are a continuation of the previous passage, which, if you remember, had to do with doing the unexpected … that is, turning the other cheek, carrying a soldier’s burden an extra mile, being charitable even to those who had no way of repaying that charity, and giving more than asked for when owing something. [1]

 

Matthew 5:43-48

Luke 6:27-28,32-36

You have heard it said, “Love[2] your neighbour and hate[3] your enemy.”[4] 

 

 

The first reference is pretty easy to find.  It is part of the commandment that Jesus considered to be the most important when it comes to dealing with others.

 

Love your neighbour as yourself.          Leviticus 19:18[5]

 

vs

 

The righteous despises the unjust.        Proverbs 29:27

 

Love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness.                                                                  1 QS 1:9-10

 

In the OT, terms like neighbour and brother were used to indicate fellow Israelites.  An enemy would generally be someone from a former nation.  However, Jesus expanded the term neighbour to include individuals like Samaritans (Luke 10:29-37) and likely was thinking of an enemy as anyone who would seek to do something to one’s own detriment.   

 

One problem with the reference to enemies is that nowhere in the OT does it say that the Israelites were to hate their enemies.  Nor could I find something along the lines in the Rabbinic teaching around the time of Jesus (Mishnah). 

 

However, there are some verses in Proverbs and the Psalms that do express hatred toward those who are faithless, who hate God, and who treat others unfairly.  One of those, from Proverbs 29:27, I included in the slide.[6]

 

[The Greek philosopher Plato, also notes that the common thinking in his day was to pay back wrong with wrong and take vengeance on those who hurt us.[7]]

 

Also, in the literature of the Jewish sect of the Essenes who had a settlement in Qumran along the shores of the Dead Sea during the time of Jesus, there are numerous passages that basically say, love your neighbour but hate your enemies, one of which I quoted as well, from a scroll known as the Manual of Discipline (named by Millar Burrows).  The Essenes, lived in the small fort close to the north-west corner of the Dead Sea. 

 

They had collected a huge amount of Jewish literature, much of which they had hidden in 11 caves nearby.  Nearly 900 scrolls or fragments of scrolls survived.  Their fort was destroyed by the Romans in 68 AD, two years before Jerusalem was razed. 

 

The writings are of great interest because they give us an insight into the various thoughts about a coming Messiah and what he would accomplish, which circulated around the time of Jesus.

 

So hating ones enemy is the natural human reaction.  Just as he did in the previous passage, Jesus tells his followers to do what does not come natural, to do the unexpected.

 

 

But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

But I say to you who hear, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

 

So this is the shocking alternative to doing what comes naturally.[8]  Love in this instance is NOT a warm fuzzy feeling.  Love, in this context, really has very little to do with any feeling and much more to do with a decision to act in a certain way.

 

Today, in order to understand what Jesus is saying, we have to redefine the way that we think about love, otherwise we don’t get it at all.  Loving one’s enemy is not trying to conjure up feelings for that person.  It is not gritting one’s teeth and saying, “I am going to like him or her, even if it kills me.” 

 

In this context, love really has to do with a decision to treat another person with kindness, even if that person is seeking to harm me in one way or another.  It is a choice to do the unexpected.

 

To do what Jesus is saying, to demonstrate kindness toward those who are our enemies, is a huge challenge for most of us.  In fact, if we are able to do what Jesus taught in this regard, it can be considered an indicator of just how far we have matured spiritually.[9] 

 

In our passages, Jesus gives three examples of what that behaviour could look like:

 

  • Pray for those who persecute/abuse you

  • Bless those who curse you

  • Do good to those who hate you

 

We can add our own points:

 

  • Seek to understand those who are hurtful

  • Listen to those who won’t listen

  • Forgive those who treat you poorly

 

All of these demonstrate a decision, and not an easy one at that. 

 

At least the last of these in terms of loving one’s enemy is also found in the OT:

 

If you should see your enemy’s ox or donkey running away, you are to bring it back to him.  If you see the donkey of the one who hates you collapsed under its burden, don’t just abandon him with it, but help him to rescue it.                                                   Exodus 23:4-5

 

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat.  If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.                 Proverbs 25:21[10]

 

So what happens when we treat those who mistreat us with kindness?  Paul speaks about heaping coals upon their heads, which may be a reference to having them feel guilt toward treating you so shabbily, and perhaps change their own attitude and actions.

 

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him into a friend.” 

 

Kindness has the potential to accomplish that, but of course there are no guarantees.  Regardless of how the other person responds, when we pray, bless, and do good, it likely will change us more than our enemies

 

It does something very healthy and wholesome in our hearts and our minds.  As a result, our resentment vanishes and we may even begin to feel compassionate toward them.  At first we may not care, we may even resent the person.  But acts of kindness can change our hearts.

 

By the way, that is true also within our marriages.  Small choices to treat the other person with patience instead of anger.  When we are kind instead of mean, forgiving instead of bitter, appreciative instead of taking for granted, when we complement instead of tear down.  You get the ideal. 

 

At times we may not feel love for the other person, but the feeling will return bit by bit as we continue to decide to act in a way that is unexpectedly kind or caring.

 

By the way, in 2008 two researchers Semir Zeki and John Romaya,[11] published a study on what happens in the brain, what parts are activated and deactivated, when a person is confronted with a picture of someone they hate. 

 

They discovered that people who have hatred toward another person all have the same parts of their brain kick in, while others kick off.  So, the aggression, critical thinking, and obsessive compulsive areas of the brain kick in, while the centers for self-awareness and laughter turn off. 

 

To demonstrate practical expressions of kindness toward the undeserving or those who oppose us or who have hurt us, Jesus says, reflects the very character of God. 

 

In this way

 

you are the sons of you heavenly Father.

But love your enemies … and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High.

For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and he sends the rain on the just and the unjust.

For he is kind to the ungrateful and evil.

 

We sometimes quip, “Like father, like son”, or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, as an acknowledgement that there is a familial likeness between sire and offspring.  Jesus likely used the example of father and son because his listeners were primarily if not all men at this point.  I think this is where we could potentially replace “sons” with “children” in order to indicate that this is not a place where gender really matters.

 

What does matter is that this familial similarity is likely only found in men and women who actually are walking close with God.  Only when we speak to God, think of God, depend on God, will we display likeness to God.

 

So God demonstrates impartial treatment when it comes to the weather – one could even say, to the vagaries of life. 

 

In Matthew the rising of the sun brings light and warmth – particularly when it’s been a cold night.  The rain quenches thirst and waters the plants – it is of special importance in a dry land.  Both are blessings. 

 

YHWH is good to all.  He has compassion on all he has made.                                                                 Psalm 145:9

 

This is reflected in Luke’s account, where God is said to demonstrate kindness toward both groups of people, those who “deserve” it, and those who do not.  God does not limit his blessings to those who serve him faithfully.

 

 

 

[The Roman philosopher Seneca (the younger), born in the same year as Jesus, wrote this:

 

If you wish to imitate the gods, do good deeds also to the ungrateful, for the sun also goes up upon the evil and the sea stands open even to pirates.                    Seneca, Ben. 4.26.1]

 

The exact opposite can be true as well, can’t it?  God allows bad things to happen to both good and bad as well.  Just because we love and follow God, does not make us immune to sorrow, pain, and death, despite what the health and wealth preachers tell us. 

 

Jesus made that point about those who were killed when a tower collapsed.  We could equally point to that poor police officer who was killed by another driver while sitting in her car by the side of the road this past week.  She didn’t deserve it.

 

In Luke, Jesus also comments about the reward that would be received by those who reflect the divine character.  This we find as well in the OT:

 

If you enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat.  If he is thirsty, give him water to drink. …. And YHWH will reward you.                                                   Proverbs 25:21-22

 

I’m not at all sure that this means that our motive for demonstrating kindness toward our enemies is to be the self-serving desire to get something in heaven from God in return: demonstrations of kindness as a means to an end.  Nevertheless, Jesus goes on about this particular point.

 

If you love those who love you, what reward will you have?  Do not even tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brother, what more are doing than others?  Do not even the non-Jews do the same?

If you love those who love you, what benefit will that bring you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit will that bring you?  Even sinners do the same.

 

If we combine Matthew and Luke, Jesus answers the question:  “Who demonstrate love to the loving, who only greet their friends, or who only help their own family members?”  And his answer is, “everyone does.”

 

Everyone does, including tax collectors, non-Jews (Gentiles) and sinners, three groups considered particularly unworthy of kindness in the Jewish mind.  

 

Tax collectors had an incredibly bad public image.  They were Jews who got rich on the backs of their fellow Jews by collecting taxes for the oppressors Rome.[12]  They had to collect an amount that they had to send to Rome, but whatever else they could squeeze out of the people, was straight profit. 

 

The whole system was really set up for abuse and corruption.  The more the tax collectors squeezed from the people, the more they were hated.  And the more they were hated, the more they squeezed. 

 

In the eyes of those who listened to Jesus, as a class, tax collectors were considered the most despicable of all people.  If even this despised group could show kindness to each other, then truly there is nothing praiseworthy or wonderful about showing kindness and compassion to one’s family and friends. 

 

Non-Jews were also considered as less important as fellow Jews.[13]  Non-Jews often worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses – and were therefore thought as idol worshippers.  They ate food considered to be defiled, and their lifestyle was considered immoral by Jews.  It was forbidden for Jews to enter the houses of non-Jews, for fear of being contaminated, of being made unclean, in God’s eyes.  Jewish men could be unfriendly or even hostile toward non-Jewish men, with the predictable results.

 

In Jewish society, the greeting would have been shalom, “peace”, which isn’t just a perfunctory “hi”.  It is actually a prayer for peace to be upon the person being greeted.[14]  If someone takes that greeting seriously, as a request for God’s blessing to be on someone, it would make sense to withhold such a prayer from one’s enemies by refusing to greet them. 

 

The Roman greeting, ave, literally means, “be well.”  Salve, also used as a greeting, means, “be healthy.” While not full of the kind of significance as shalom, it also is pronouncing a blessing on the person being greeted.[15]

 

So if even the non-Jews, like the Romans, pronounce a blessing on fellow Romans, then there is nothing special or deserving merit about a Jew greeting a fellow Jew, or, by extension, a friend or family member. 

 

As a complete aside, do you know what the farewell, “good-bye” originally meant?  Yes, it meant “God be with you,” something almost completely forgotten in our day and age.

 

Sinners were those individuals among the Jewish populace who did not follow the Jewish faith.  They would purposefully and willfully neglect keeping the Mosaic Law, and so would find themselves being looked down on and ostracized by the religious majority. 

 

They would buy whatever food was cheapest in the market place, without caring whether or not it was kosher or not.  They would get drunk.  They would tend pigs, all of which was forbidden in the Mosaic Law.  They would sleep around.  Sinners included prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, cheats, robbers, oppressors.

 

All three groups could be considered as alienated from God and from the Jewish faith community.  Yet, despite their status in Jewish society, they would find ways to love, and greet, and do good to members of their own families, their own ethic group, or their own profession. 

 

It should become clear to us that Jesus was a Jew speaking to fellow Jews.  We should also be clear that, while the main focus of Jesus’ ministry was to fellow Jews, he was roundly criticized for spending time with “tax collectors and sinners.”

 

There is no reward in showing kindness to those individuals and groups of people who are kindly disposed toward us.  The truly divine, the truly remarkable, the truly worthy of reward is to demonstrate kindness toward those individuals who are not kindly disposed toward us, who have hurt us, who are out to get us, who have bad intentions toward us, who have been mean to us.

 

And then Jesus returns to the son/father metaphor with his closing remark.

 

Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.[16]

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.[17]

 

Keep in mind that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek, the language in which his words are recorded.

 

Matthew’s wording may be reflecting the close connection between Jesus words and a passage in Leviticus, where God says:

 

Be holy because I, YHWH your God, am holy. 

Leviticus 19:2

 

Luke’s wording may reflect more closely the actual intent of Jesus’ teaching – that one’s own behaviour when it comes to extending mercy and kindness to others is a reflection of God’s mercy and kindness.   

 

I like this better to some degree because perfectionism is something we think will protect us from crashing when in fact it is a huge weight that prevents us from even getting off the ground.  Perfectionism simply makes us feel inadequate and judgmental.

 

Those who consider themselves children of God should be concerned with reflecting God’s image to those around them.

 

So where does this leave us.  For some of us, we need to apply what Jesus is saying about enemies to our friends and family.

 

Aside:  Sometimes we have a problem being nice to people who treat us nicely, never mind treating mean people nice.  For some of us, the real message we need to hear today should be:

 

Instead of loving my enemies, I need to focus on treating my friends and family a little better

 

Never mind the sermon topic today.  Because some of us treat our family members and friends worse than we do our enemies.   By the way, the reason the lady was so ticked off was because her husband didn’t go on the ride with him. 

 

For others of us, if we are to take Jesus’ teaching seriously, it isn’t enough for us to give nodding ascent while we’re here but then go home and forget about it.

 

We know that it is just natural for us to get upset and angry with those who are in some way hurting us, or offending us, or diminishing us in one way or another. 

 

By the way, those we hate are usually the people who mean something to us, because if they didn’t matter our reaction would not be nearly as strong.  So you have neighbours who let their dogs bark all the time.  Yes, it’s annoying.  Yes, it’s inconsiderate.  But you are upset.  But you don’t hate your neighbours.  In fact, you can always phone the bylaw officer. 

 

But what if your best friend betrays your trust and your friendship and deeply wounds or hurts you.  They walk away from you and spread false rumours about you.  This is more than an annoyance, this is a deep wound from someone who is important to us.  Or what about the dead-beat or vindictive ex?  Or what about that sibling that steals and spends your parents’ retirement money?  It’s a different story isn’t it?

 

So what can help us to do something nice for people who aren’t nice to us?

 

1. I need to do whatever it takes to remain or become a positive person

 

If we are generally unhappy and dissatisfied with life, we will have a hard time not feeling dislike for others, esp. those who tick us off or hurt us in one way or another.

 

The spouse who constantly puts us down.

The parent who picked on us.

The teacher who humiliated us in front of the class.

The bully who threatens us.

The co-worker who takes credit for our hard work and gets a promotion or raise because of it.

The friend who betrays us.

The employer who takes advantage of us.

The scam artist who tries to cheat us.

 

Some of us need to get more sleep.  Some of us need to challenge our constant negativity and the negative thoughts that hound us.  Some of us need to deal with clinical depression.  Some of us need to find time for ourselves.  Some of us need to be more thankful.  Some of us need to sing more.  Some of us need to pray more.  Some of us need to find friends.

 

2. I need to remind myself that life is not fair

 

We all have an innate sense of justice.  But life isn’t just.  Life is messy.  If our expectation is that everyone else exists to treat us as we would want them to, we will always go through life disappointed, bitter, and angry. 

 

That doesn’t mean that we are sitting ducks, willing for everyone to take shots at us or take advantage of us.  However, it does mean that we don’t have to allow the injustices of life to determine who we are.   

 

I would also say, that we need to remind ourselves that if we have some very strong negative feelings toward another person, it may take a bit of work and time to get over them. 

 

3. I need to learn to engage

 

When someone hurts us and we get angry, it helps to figure out why that person is hurtful.  We could find out about their background, the tragedies in their lives, their insecurities and fears and motivations.  Walk in their shoes for a short while.

 

That doesn’t mean we excuse their behaviour, it just means that we find some explanation of why they are acting in a way that makes you hate them.

 

Most of us need to learn to be better listeners.  We need to learn to enjoy small talk.  We need to smile more and give more compliments.  We need to look more for the things we can appreciate about others than the things we hate about them.

 

Some of us are painfully shy.  Some of us can’t handle crowds.  Some of us are very private.  Some of us are socially awkward, we simply don’t know what to say.

 

But none of these characteristics should keep us from disengaging with others, from showing kindness, understanding, compassion, and friendship. 

 

Some of us need to get over ourselves and stop thinking so much about ourselves and what others have done to hurt us, and start volunteering somewhere. 

 

We may think that volunteering to help others is the last thing we want to do, especially if we are filled with hate and distrust.  However, when we make an effort to care about people other than ourselves, it will change our attitude. 

 

4. I need to genuinely like myself

 

The reason why we may hate others, is because we really dislike ourselves or our own lives.  We all have flaws, in our character, our bodies, our attitudes, our actions. 

 

When we lack confidence and are filled with insecurities, we may end up only focusing on our flaws:

 

I’m fat.

I’m broke.

I’m ugly.

I’m stupid.

I’m alone.

I’m unhappy.

I’m unpopular.

I’m not athletic.

I’m a failure.

I’m in pain.

I’m too this or too that.

 

So there are things that we do have control over and that we can work on.  Being filled with hate and bitterness and resentment is just one of those.  We can exercise more.  We can dye our hair.  We can make good choices. 

 

On the other hand, there are certain things we simply need to accept about ourselves. 

 

Thinning hair. 

Aging.

Never writing an opera.

Having a long nose or short neck or bad eyesight.

 

If we don’t come to terms with things like these, we may always feel like a failure. 

 

The point is that one of the reasons why we can be filled with hate for others is that we are filled with hate for ourselves, because our whole self-esteem is wrapped up in our appearance or popularity or being successful, however we define success. 

 

If we have confidence, if we like ourselves, then we will be much less likely to hate others, or retaliate. 

 

5. I need to move on

 

If we think of all the negative energy that we can spend on hating our enemies, or those we perceive to be our enemies, we may get to the realization that it simply isn’t worth it.  The negative emotions and desire for retribution is just harming us, not the person we hate.

 

In fact, our negative emotions could take over control of our lives.  When we are allowing our hateful thoughts toward another person to determine how our day is going, we are losing out big time.  It’s just not worth it.

 

Hating someone has no therapeutic value.  It may push away other problems as we plot or fantasize about how we are going to get back at them, how we are going to get our revenge.  But it isn’t going to improve our lives one bit … rather the opposite is true.

 

Moving on, sometimes means walking away from an enemy, instead of trying to get back at them.  And I don’t mean that this is the same as no longer caring or being apathetic about the person.  It just means, giving ourselves the space we need in order to gain perspective.

 

Moving on means being honest with ourselves and recognizing and admitting when we are angry or filled with hate toward someone. 

 

Moving on definitely means forgiving and letting go.  That isn’t the same as forgetting or putting ourselves into harm’s way again. 

 

Some of us tend to hold a grudge to the point that we never really accept apologies or hear people out when they’ve made a mistake.  We simply write them off and hate them, or try to retaliate in kind. 

 

We move on when we smile and do the things that fill our spiritual and emotional tanks, whatever that may be.  Spend time in nature.  Take a class.  Start a new hobby or restart an old one.  Play an instrument.  Write a book.  Train for a marathon.  Plant a garden. 

 

If there is nothing meaningful and joyful in our lives, it’s pretty easy to get stuck in hating others.  But if we spend time doing stuff we love, and stuff that helps us to feel loved and more loving, we will feel positive about life in general, even if there are those who will hurt us.

 

Get into the habit of looking for things to be thankful for – and then give thanks. 

 

Moving on also means that we stop talking trash about the other person.  So they were awful, they did terrible things, they are terrible people.  Stop getting yourself upset over and over again by rehashing the past.  Those who listen to us may reinforce us in our negative feelings and make us feel even more justified in hating that person. 

 

As many of you know, I was raised by a single mom.  My father did not treat her well when they were married.  Yet, throughout my childhood and youth I cannot remember her saying anything derogatory about my dad.  She didn’t forget, but she didn’t rehash. 

 

HOW DOES JESUS’ CALL FOR ME TO ACT WITH KINDNESS TOWARD MY ENEMIES APPLY TO ME TODAY?

 

[1] Luke 6 actually weaves the two passages in Matthew together, mentioning the slap I the face, giving the overcoat when the undercoat is taken, giving to everyone, and not demanding back what is taken.  He also includes here the principle (golden rule):  Treat others as you wish that they would treat you (6:31), found in Matt 7:12.

[2] Gk. agapao.

[3] Gk. miseo.

[4] Gk. ekthros.  An adjective meaning “hostile” used as a participle meaning enemy.

[5] Leviticus 19:17-18 also speaks of NOT hating, not taking vengeance, and not bearing a grudge against a Jewish brother, neighbour, or the sons of your own people.  These do arise if one understands the other person to be an enemy or adversary or opponent.

[6] See also Psalm 119:158, “I look on the faithless with loathing because they do not obey your word.” Psalm 139:21-22, “Do I not hate those who hate you, YHWH, and despise those who oppose you?  I have nothing but hatred for them.  I count them as my enemies.

[7] “We should not pay back wrong with wrong, as the world thinks, since we must do not wrong at all, … no matter what he may have done to us.”  Crito 49b-c.

[8] Note unique to Jesus.  In the ancient Babylonian text, Counsels of Wisdom (lines 41-45), the suggestion is not to do evil to someone who disputes [in a court of law], to be kind to evildoers, to smile on the adversary, to nurture the ill-wisher.  In the Egyptian wisdom text, Instruction of Amenemopet (4:10-5:6), the reader is told to help and feed the wicked man so that he may be ashamed.

[9] The Dalai Lama said, “The practicing of loving kindness toward one’s enemy is the ultimate test of one’s own spiritual attainment.”

[10] Quoted by Paul in Romans 12:20, including the part about heaping burning coals on the enemies’ head (kill your enemy with kindness?).  Cf. Prov 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and don’t be glad when he stumbles”, also Job 31:29.  Again, this teaching is not unique to Jesus.  Kindness and lack of retaliation to defeated or weaker enemies were considered good strategies in the Greco-Roman world as well (Cicero, Offic. 2:22-24; Seneca, Clem. 2.3.1.).

[11] At the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at UCL, published in PLoS One

[12] The Roman system was to invite bids for the right to collect taxes of any given area.  The successful bidder would then employ people to do the actual work of collecting the taxes.  Strictly speaking the tax collector (Gk. telones; Lat. publicanus) was the man who had the tax-collection contract, but the term also came to be used for his underlings [see chief tax collector].  Whatever was collected above the contract was to pay for the salaries of the collectors.  But human nature being what it is, most collected more than was justified in order to enrich themselves. 

[13] The Hebrew term goy (nation) or goyim (nations) to refer to non-Jews is inherently not insulting and originated in the middle ages.  However, it has taken on a very negative connotation (offensive, disparaging, and derogatory), probably because of past and present antisemitism.

[14] Much like the Muslim greeting: As-salamu alaykum (peace be upon you).

[15]Grüß Gott“ is a shortened form of „Grüße dich Gott“, which originally meant “Gott segne dich.”  “Pfüet di” is short for “Gott behüte dich.”

[16] Matt 5:48 – teleios, from the noun telos, meaning “the end. “  Teleios means, “having attained the end or goal.“  The implication is that to attain this is to have reached perfection.  The LXX uses this term in Deut 18:13, “You must be blameless (whole, entire) before YHWH your God.”

[17] Luke 6:36 – oiktirmones, can also be translated “compassionate”.