Jesus was a great storyteller, and as a storyteller of his time in 1st centrury Palestine he knew the means that a storyteller used to convey the meaning of what he wished ot share. One of those techniques is hyperbole: something is overstated to make a point. It was an excellent technique in an oral culture, used to the art of storytelling. The hyperbole, itself, is not to be taken literally. People would go away and remember the over-statement and in time understand what was being said underneath.
The use of juxtaposition is another technique: two statements are put aside each other, one informing and opening the meaning of the other.
We see such a juxtaposing in the two segments we have just heard. They are two little statements about the nature of faith, but we need to hold the two statements together if we want to understand what Jesus is teaching. In other words, if we only take one statement to the exclusion of the other, then we will miss the full significance of what Jesus is teaching us about faith.
So given both statements, what is Jesus teaching us about faith? Using two sets of images, he is saying to us:
- On the one hand faith empowers us; on the other hand, it renders us accountable;
- On one hand it takes us beyond what is imaginable; on the other hand, it has concreteness about it;
- It takes us beyond the merely empirical, on the one hand, yet it is known by our actions;
- It is beyond the ordinary standards of measurement, yet its quality is fully observable;
- Faith renders our life with completely unexpected responses, yet faith also brings a certain demand on us.
The Gospel today teaches us that faith informs our life with unexpected responses, sometimes even judged crazy by a logic not informed by faith. There is something extraordinary about it, and yet at the same time it has real effect in our lives and in the world.
Perhaps it is in that constant struggle to forgive that we see when and how what Jesus is leading us to consider. The expected response when we are hurt is vengeance, resentment, pay back, getting even, punishment on the one who has hurt us. Yet, our faith in the possibility that Jesus offers us invites us, however, to a completely unexpected response, often as apparently bizarre as uprooting a giant tree into the ocean. This is the unexpected response which holds back from revenge, the response which stands back and waits, the response which in the waiting considers, not without pain, what action might bring lasting healing to all.
It is the unexpected response. And yet it changes our hearts, and therefoe it changes the world. And the change is visible to all to see.
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