Friends, I gotta tell you about this recent TEDx talk I heard. The speaker is sort of a rockstar these days. People come from all around the country to hear him. He travels too, he is sort of on tour now, making appearances at a number of TEDx stages.
My friend, Matthew, says that he heard the guy in Aspen, people sat around on the mountain, just mesmerized. Matthew said it reminded him of Moses, on Mt Sinai delivering the ten commandments. I don’t know if you know Aspen but the people there, they are loaded and they expect sort of a gentle touch. So Matthew said, this guy, knowing his audience, starts in with:
Blessed are the poor – in Spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek. They will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst – for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who are persecuted – for righteousness sake. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
By the time he got to Wichita TEDx, there were long lines, and surely the seats were better in the mountains than we have on the Kansas prairie. With everybody sitting on the same level, it’s sometimes hard to see but we can hear just fine. Despite the long lines and the poor sight lines, it is definitely worth the wait.
Maybe Aspen was sort of a warm-up. In Wichita, this guy is. on. fire. He is no longer just handing out blessings like Matthew said happened in the mountains. He really lets loose.
Blessed are those who are poor full stop.
(And then wham,) Woe to you who are rich.
Blessed are you who hunger now!
Woe to you who are well fed now,
you will go hungry.
Blessed are you when people hate you
(and then watch out,)
Woe to you when people speak well of you.
The crowd is dumbfounded. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry, to applaud or scream back at him. And remember, this is still the TEDx stage. I have no doubt – he will be playing the main TED stage soon. This guy is going viral.
He is sort of an unlikely candidate for so much attention since he is a rabbi and a young one at that. But for being so young, he is wise, so wise that he can seem otherworldly. At the same time, he is so very human, with a loud laugh and a big heart; you can tell he has a really big heart, for everybody.
Matthew had talked up this presentation. And he had even given me a little heads up about the blessings. I couldn’t wait to see how it would play in the Great State of Kansas. But when the rabbi starts in with the curses, (well, maybe not curses, just warnings,) it takes my breath away.
Who is he to say this, right here, in the heartland where the Romans and their sympathizers can hear him? I mean there are probably spies in the crowd and here he is handing out comfort to the poor and warnings to the rich – warnings to the top dogs who live on compliments and other people’s misery? Does he have no concern for his own safety? for our safety? Did I say he was wise?
Maybe I am mistaken.
And then, as if we aren’t already hanging on his every word, he goes –
I say to you who hear me:
Love. your. enemies.
What? Love who? Now he is going too far. We know that we are supposed to feed our hungry enemies, give our thirsty enemies a drink, my parents taught me that, from Proverbs 25: 21. I always thought it was kind of a protective thing: If you feed your enemies, maybe they won’t hurt you, good strategy. But this – love the enemy? Get real.
And then he does get real:
Do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
Now I know the psalm says, Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Let go of your anger, leave resentment behind. (Psalm 37: 8) I try to be faithful but this guy? Do good to those who hate you – and then pray for them yet? He tilts just a little toward doing good to the haters. No, he more than tilts, he trips over himself to go to their side! He can’t be serious.
You’ve heard that phrase, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” So close you feed them, and give them a cup of cold water? That is already taking the tradition too literally. But then to love them? How can they even be an enemy if you love them?
Look, I go to temple, I am as faithful as the next person. But this? This is too much. And then suddenly, I think I hear what the rabbi is doing.
I say to you who hear me: Love your enemies.
Hear, O Israel: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Do you hear it? This rabbi is using the same cues as the tradition but he is changing up the commandment.
Hear O Israel. Love God with all your heart and soul and strength.
I say to you who hear. Love your enemies.
Hear O Israel – it is clear who is supposed to listen, it is Israel, the Jewish people. And we do love God with all our heart and soul and strength. We are faithful.
When the rabbi speaks, I say to you who hear – he talks to anyone within listening range. And it is clear that we are more than just Jews here in Wichita. Everybody, from all over the plains, is here. Maybe the message is for anyone, for everyone. Even for the Roman spies who might be listening in? There is not a chance that the Roman spies will take this seriously. Is there? Could they ever love us, their Jewish enemies?
Then another important commandment, from the tradition, flits through my mind:
You must love your neighbor as yourself.
I may be making a leap here but is this young rabbi telling us to love not only our neighbors as ourselves but also to love our enemies as ourselves? He couldn’t be saying that, could he?
I remember complaining one time, just once, to a friend about how something was not going my way. My friend responded, “You are your own worst enemy.” Don’t be ridiculous. I am not! But now, hearing this rabbi say love your enemies, I wonder. What if the only way to love the enemy out there is to love myself, the enemy (and neighbor) right here. What if I can never love the enemy out there if I don’t love the enemy right here?
The rabbi talks on and on about what it can look like to love enemies. Do to others what you would have them do to you. But I can barely hear. Love your enemies and do good to them. How can I take this seriously, really live it out. I mean, TED talks are supposed to change your life right, give you new insight? I don’t know if I even want to change my life.
Love my enemy? How can I love the enemy out there if I don’t love the enemy right here? Maybe if I stop arguing and rest, rest in the Great Love that we all rest in, the Great Love in which we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28) (breath)
If I can live in that love, experience that love every day, well maybe there is hope for loving the enemy in here and out there. (breath)
Maybe all love flows out of that Great Love that holds us all. And when I am aware and living in that Great Love, in which we live and move and have our being, then maybe I am grounded enough to love my neighbors and my enemies. (breath, breath, breath)
Give and it will be given to you: a full measure – packed down, shaken together and running over – will be poured into your lap. For the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.
Wait. What? The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. Really? So if I work at loving my enemies, will my enemies love me back? That seems a pretty big stretch. How would I even start a project like that?
Maybe I can pick one enemy and see what it might be like to love them as I love my neighbor and as I love myself. It could be sort of a social/spiritual experiment.
Do I even know any Romans well enough to try and love them? I can’t imagine there being any love given in return. Maybe first I could try to talk to one of the Romans, just to see if it is even possible. Ok, that sounds like a lot, no talking. Maybe just start with an acknowledgment, a smile. No talking, no love, just an acknowledging smile. And see if that is “given back.”
I can see how that goes and then after a few smiles, if nothing bad happens, I can try saying hello. Maybe I can see if there is anything human in that Roman uniform. No harm in running a trial to see if what this rabbi says has any merit. And if the experiment goes well, if the enemy responds, then maybe try another one of the rabbi’s strange ideas, God help me – giving without any expectation of receiving in return. Wait!
These ideas about loving the enemy and giving to anyone who asks (without expecting anything in return,) they are frankly, ridiculous. On the other hand, if even a few of us from Wichita would try and live them out, maybe it would make a difference, even here under the Roman occupation.
Matthew had warned me not to miss the TEDx talk in Wichita and it was really the best evening ever. And now I’m telling you: if you ever have a chance to see this rabbi in person, do not miss it, though it might be easier to read some of the books about him. I hear they are great for book clubs.
His stuff is radical, kind of impossible really, but it is always good to have a grand imaginative vision, something to strive for – even if it seems outlandish. And then if you get even part way there, well, you have really accomplished something.
I think I might start small and see how it goes. Or maybe I can find a group of people here in Wichita and we can try these social/spiritual experiments together. Kind of an expansion on the book club idea. Hmm, we’ll see. Anyway, catch the rabbi’s next TED talk when you can.