Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Giving People Exactly WhatThey Deserve

Suggested Reading: Matthew 5:38-48

Not long after Clark Kent's father died in season 5 of Smallville, he encountered a young woman who was seeking her own mother's murderer. When she finally found him, Clark wasn't going to let her kill him even though she argued, "He doesn't deserve to live!" But from Clark's perspective as a budding superhero, people should be saved whether they deserve it or not, whether they're a good guy or a bad guy. Everybody should be saved, not because they deserve it but because it is the right thing to do.

The episode reminds me of a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, having just preached against revenge, goes on to say, "But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?" (Matthew 5:44-46, NLT).

Living as we do in a society where people are rewarded or penalized based on merit (in theory, at least), we can sometimes forget that while we allow people to reap the consequences of their own actions, we should also treat people well whether they deserve it or not. Politicians use words we believe are inflammatory and so we begin speaking about them with inflammatory words. People disregard us and treat us with disrespect and so we begin treating them with disrespect. People lie to us and so we begin to treat them with mocking and contempt. Do they all deserve it? Perhaps, but that does not mean we should give them what they deserve.

Jesus reminded us that God extends some blessings to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. Sun and rain are given to everyone, whether they are good or evil, whether they are just or unjust, and then he says we are to love people the same way. We are to treat people well whether they deserve it or not. We should speak respectfully and with courtesy, whether they deserve it or not. We should extend kindness and compassion, even when they are mean and cruel. 

Treating somebody exactly as they deserve doesn't mean we are dispensing justice, it means we are shaming our Father in Heaven, the one who sends blessings on both the just and the unjust.

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