Evil for Evil
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 26, 2020
A Pro-Life Sunday Message
“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
AN EYE for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Some say this is the biblical standard for justice. “Hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” goes a chapter in Exodus, right after the Ten Commandments, but consider their case.
Here are a few million people marching in the desert of western Arabia near the Red Sea. People who live on the edge of existence push back hard when their lives are in the balance. They couldn’t afford to be weak. The Hebrews were a minority among the Canaanite tribes, and although successful sheep grazers, their possessions were viewed with envy, their presence with suspicion.
If a single injury was done to one of them, such as the rape of their sister Dinah, then a disproportionate response ought to frighten and keep their enemies away. The sons of Jacob responded to that insult by killing every man in Shechem. It was an ancient system for ending evil: If you steal my ox, I’ll burn your village. Kill one of my people, I’ll wipe out your tribe. It was a law of escalation and it resulted either in fearful peace or all-out war.
On the desert however, equity was demanded by God: how were the Israelites to see justice done during their march through a wilderness? They couldn’t build jails for their felons. The old law of escalation wasn’t justice. So just poke his eye out if that’s what he did to you, and that should square it. No further retribution may be sought. Justice done.
But now comes Jesus. He says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say… whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also… And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away… Ye have heard… Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:38-48
The Epistle today enjoins us not to render evil for evil, meaning harm for harm. Vengeance belongs to God, and God is merciful. Christ sets a new order before mankind in His Sermon on the Mount. If primitive man escalated injury until an enemy was annihilated or driven off in fear, the Law of Moses set a scale before God’s people and a limit on justice to be equal injury done for injury. Now comes Jesus and orders us to forgive, and even to love our enemy. It’s a huge difference, but it’s the course we must take if we are going to be with God, and ultimately be like God.
The statement Christ makes for us to be perfect, even like the Father, has to be understood in context. First, perfection means our ultimate state of completion, not a sudden change from fleshliness to divinity or some original innocence. He is speaking of patience, forbearance, mercy and forgiveness for others, even love for those who do not and cannot love you back. For God is like that. Thank God, or we wouldn’t be loved or forgiven by Him. If He is merciful to us, then we must be so to others who frankly don’t deserve it. It’s God’s way, and if we seek God and heaven, we have to start acting like heaven here on earth.
Have no fear. No one expects you to become a wimp for Jesus. I have always wondered at the syntax of St. Paul’s statement to the Ephesians, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” Eph 4:26 It’s an awkward phrase, but he means for us to be angry when appropriate, yet not go so far as to sin. That is the stance we need to adopt toward real evil in the world around us. It is the stance Jesus held for all evil.
First, get angry. We can’t just acquiesce. Injury is done every day. People act selfishly. Children suffer. And unborn babies die daily. The thing was an outrage when done once, yet is now done a million times a year is commonplace. The abortion capital of northern California is still Chico, which has two abortion clinics that serve fearful girls from Yreka to Susanville to Colusa to Grass Valley. Hundreds of women’s babies are destroyed here annually, and we scarcely look or concern ourselves.
My group, ChicoLife, made a dent in it for 20 years, praying at Planned Parenthood, and their abortion numbers declined to less than half, but it still continued.
We fund Women’s Resource Clinic to provide girls with an alternative to abortion, with new mothering skills and support to bring their babies to birth and into love and a family.
But the outrage we once had for the daily practice of abortion has cooled. In order to defend life against an unbridled deadly force of coercion, dehumanization of women and undermining God’s gift of life, we must first get angry. These things are not okay. Statistics only numb our response. Don’t try to imagine the 60 million. Just think of one you know. Your grandchild perhaps. If we elect any candidates, let them be uncompromising pro-lifers. There’s no excuse for confusion on this issue. 47 years since Roe, it’s the issue that has not gone away. This is not what we are as Americans.
Be angry, and sin not. Being hot enough to do something, we have to bridle our passion and channel it. We need to see the real enemy and the actual victim, and cry for all the casualties of war. Corrie Ten Boom recounted her horror in a Nazi concentration camp, watching hatchet-faced German female guards beat her fellow prisoners. Her sister Betsy cried for the poor woman. At first Corrie thought she meant the woman beaten, but was shocked to realize Betsy wept for the guard. Some pro-lifers once aimed their outrage at women entering clinics, shouting slogans about killing their babies. While they held the moral high ground of rhetoric, no consciences were touched.
Abortion became a national blight through the infamous Roe decision, 47 years ago. Jane Roe, the plaintiff in that action, was actually Norma McCorvey, a woman who claimed that Texas denied her an abortion. She was the pro-choice poster child, and later worked at an abortion clinic when Operation Rescue moved in next door. Rescuers first yelled slogans at Norma as she arrived for work. Later, convicted of this evil conduct, they asked her forgiveness. But Emily, a 7-year-old girl conceived out of wedlock, who had almost been aborted herself, kept loving Norma, hugged and called out to her, and it finally melted her heart. Norma actually came to church with these folks who had won her with love and mercy. She felt God’s forgiveness for her key role in America’s great sin, and she was baptized. She publicly declared she was Jane Roe, but now, gone to be with Him three years ago, she is Christ’s bride. It wasn’t outrage that won her soul to Christ, but love.
We mustn’t return evil for evil, no matter what the issue, no matter how dire the stakes. It wasn’t evil for us to fight Nazi Germany, truly one of the most evil regimes to threaten the world. Our war wasn’t evil. We then rebuilt Europe at our own expense. We equipped Japan, giving them the most powerful industrial state in the East. Today, when we have deposed Middle Eastern dictators, we’ve tried to raise up democracies in their place, built schools, roads, water sources, sewers and police departments in countries where fear reigned for decades. Whether that lasts will be seen. History may bear us out.
Evil for evil always escalates. Mercy for evil, however, will declare that the evil is evil, that it is intolerable, and then provide a means of escape for those who are imprisoned by it.
Carol Everett was once the director of four abortion clinics in Dallas-Fort Worth and oversaw 35,000 abortions after her own abortion in 1973. She excused her trade because it was lucrative, it answered a need, and it was inevitable anyway. But when a woman died in her clinic the news vans showed up. A merciful pro-lifer spoke love that got inside her defenses and her heart was struck. She then gave testimony all over the nation that abortion is an evil product sold for money. The product is defective, but no one is able to return it: they must live with their decision and the loss of their baby, their innocence: a life that might have been. I met Carol at the first Women’s Resource banquet in Chico and enjoyed her peppery Texan frankness. She told the story, she spoke out. Not rendering evil for evil, she still let it be heard that evil was indeed evil. We can’t whitewash it or hide from it. It must be told.
Compassion extends to your worst enemy. Compassion doesn’t mean you must subject yourself to abuse: forgiveness means that you are free from their evil, and that your enemy is free to change, too. You are not keeping him defined by his previous evil actions. Sometimes, for wisdom’s sake, you must dismiss a person from your life. You draw lines. Jesus dismissed the scribes of His day who would not have Him declared Messiah, who led the people into further darkness, ignorance and hate. His dismissal was to state the obvious. They would not seek His Father, and rejected the Son. He couldn’t compromise His mission for their sake. They were not with Him, but against Him.
Yet, from His cross Jesus sighed. Audible to those who were listening, His mother at the foot of the cross being one of them, He looked out on all the evil done that day, and the people caught up in it, and He said, “Father, forgiven them, for they know not what they do.” Lk 23:34 He overcame every evil deed that day, the worst of the worst, by suffering for us all, and in our place, as an act of love.
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” was Paul’s advice, and well said. Render not evil for evil. Get mad, see it like it is, never rest from saying what is true and good and right, and what is wrong. But see who is really damaged by sin and its fruit, and mercifully set yourself to rescue the lost and the heartsick, trapped in their own evil. If you do, you will be just like God.