A Crazy, Holy Vulnerability

So I have been racking my brain, praying, and pondering about what else from life and my studies God can use to speak here (as a seminary grad there is no shortage of topics on my mind, not all of them helpful), but this topic has been on my mind since I stumbled across a passage in Luke a few weeks ago.

My wife and I are not-so-slowly working our way through season 4 of Castle (no spoilers, please; the writer in me knows this is about to get really good), and there’s an episode where Det. Beckett has to work through emotional fall-out from an event at the close of last season. What caught my attention in the episode, and what prompted this post, is that she doesn’t want to deal with it. She’s the tough, smart cop, and it’s a weakness. In short, she doesn’t want to be vulnerable.

Aren’t we all like that at one time or another? Dictionary.com defines “vulnerable” as “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,” and that is something we don’t like to be. We don’t like to hurt, whether that be from emotional or physical pain. We want to protect ourselves, to make sure we’ll be alright. Sometimes this is a good thing, like when you know not to go walking through the wrong side of town after dark, but sometimes it’s not healthy, like when it involves our relationships with others or with God or with parts of our lives that we don’t like to acknowledge. (If you’ve found your way here and you don’t believe in God and you’re still reading this, I hope you’ll bear with me through this. You might find something worthwhile by the end. 🙂 )

In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus gives some perspective on being vulnerable in a healthy way, and that’s what I want to look at in this post. In the English Standard Version, this passage reads as follows:

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

As a bit of general background, this passage is from a larger chunk of Luke called the Sermon on the Plain, which covers many of the same topics as the better-known Sermon on the Mount. The general focus here is on overcoming evil with good, but this is not an outward, religious appearance sort of thing. As we’ll see, it goes much deeper than that.

If you’ve been around a church, or been around those who have been around a church, there are parts of this passage that are likely familiar to you. “Turn the other cheek,” in verse 29, is a concept that now has a lot of baggage attached to it, and verse 31 is the “Golden Rule.” What I want to do here is try to get past some of that baggage and see more clearly what Jesus is getting at. The best way to do that is through a word study. The Bible was not originally written in English. The Book of Luke, among others, was originally written in Greek, and a word study simply means going back to the Greek to better understand some of the key words in a given passage. (You don’t have to read Greek to pull this off. I can’t read it at all, so I make use of a biblical Greek dictionary to make this possible.) My apologies if this seems a little tedious, but it’s well worth the effort.

There are 5 different phrases/words worth looking at here. They are as follows:

1. “Love your enemies,” in verse 27. The love referenced here is not a plastic, outward, “do nice things for people” kind of love. Rather, the Greek word translated here as “love” is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “beloved.” Beloved brings to mind images of an intimate, romantic sort of relationship. A lavish, generous love. It is a love that has nothing to do with any good in the one whom it loves, and it’s not something we can produce ourselves. It’s a product of God living in us as believers. Keep all of this in mind as we move through the rest of this.

2. “Offer,” in verse 29. The sense in the Greek here is of freely giving something to someone else for their use with no strings attached.

3. “Withhold,” in verse 29. The Greek word translated here means “to hinder, restrain, forbid. This word carries the sense of refusing to let go of something, and the sentence it’s in implies that this is a bad thing. (There seems to be a theme building here.)

4. “Give” and “demand,” in verse 30. The Greek word here translated as “give” means “to yield,” which carries the same sense as “offer” in verse 29. (See the theme yet?) “Demand” carries the sense of one asking something of someone who is in a higher position than the one doing the asking. If we yield something to those who ask us for it, as the verse says, we put them in that higher position relative to ourselves.

5. “Receive,” in verse 34. The sense here is of getting back what one is due. Your just rewards, so to speak. In the context of the verse, this is a fair recompense for what one has previously lent out.

So what is the point of all that tediousness? If you noticed the theme in looking closely at this passage, what Jesus has in mind here is not “being a wimpy doormat.” This is not a call to divine helplessness. You’re not to let others walk all over you. Rather, this is a conscious, deliberate choice to be vulnerable. This is insane vulnerability (or extreme vulnerability, if you like that better), something that is so far beyond what we would normally be willing to do or even inclined to do. It’s a choice to open yourself up, to risk rejection, pain, and heartache. A choice to not demand your own, to not protect yourself.

But what is the point to that observation? Is this something we’re just supposed to will ourselves into doing, even when we really don’t feel like it, and then pat ourselves on the back at how religious we are? I realize being that vulnerable will sometimes go against the grain, but as I said at the beginning, this is not a performance thing. It’s not about completing some religious check-list. It goes deeper than that.

Look again at verses 35 and 36 above. “You will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” This is how Jesus is towards us. Think about it. How often is Jesus rejected? If you’re a believer, how many times did you push Him away before you said yes? If you’re not a believer, how many times have you turned Him down? (I ask this question to make you think, not to start a guilt-trip, so please take it for what it’s worth.) Think back to the times you were rejected by another, like when you asked the pretty girl next door out on a date and she turned your down, or when you were afraid your boyfriend would never propose. Rejection hurts. Period. Yet Jesus opens Himself up to it again and again and again and again. He loves us enough to take that rejection and still want us. He doesn’t walk away.

Think of the cross. Matthew 26:53 tells us that Jesus could have stopped His crucifixion if He’d wanted to. He could have done so at any point, yet He went through with it all the way through to His death. That’s the ultimate vulnerability, and He did it because He wanted to be with you and with me.

So here’s the question. Can you be this vulnerable? This is not meant as a religious, outward question, but rather as one that’s deeply personal. After all, being vulnerable with others ultimately includes being vulnerable with God. Think about it. Is Jesus trustworthy enough for you to trust Him that He’ll look out you for you when you’re this vulnerable? Is He trustworthy enough for you to give up something that really mattered if He were to ask you to? I mean, we all have things that we hold on to, things we think we need, that may or may not be healthy for us. And it’s OK if your answer’s no. This isn’t meant to provoke shame. We’ve all walked different roads in life, and we’re all at different places with Him, and as a result the answers to those questions will differ for everyone. And that’s OK. This is something you have to work through for yourself. (I’ve been kicking this subject around for 3 weeks now, and I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it.)

That’s really the ultimate question, isn’t it? He is vulnerable with us every day. Can we be that vulnerable with Him?

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