Crazy Love, Pastor Fred (I am endebted to The Rev. Dr. Kim L Beckmann for some of the ideas and content of this sermon, as well as the Julio Diaz NPR StoryCorps story)
Julio Diaz is a social worker in New York City. Like many here in Chicago, he has a long daily commute, and a favorite eatery. Julio shared this story on NPR’s StoryCorps.
One [cold] spring night [a few years ago], Julio Diaz stepped off the train, as he always did, one stop early, so he could go to his favorite diner. But as the train pulled out from the nearly empty platform, and Diaz walked toward the stairs, a young man approached, and pulled out a knife.
“He wants my money,” Julio said. “So I just took out my wallet, and offered him the whole thing. ‘Here you go.’” he told him.
Most of us, at this point, if we were able to walk away unharmed, would just sink to our knees in gratitude, that it ended that well. But something told Julio Diaz to go an extra mile, to actually reach out to his mugger. "Hey, wait a minute,” he said. “You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."
The would-be robber, looked at his would-be victim, like he was crazy. "Like what's going on here? He asked me,” Diaz said, 'Why are you doing this?'"
And Diaz said: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner, and, if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.”
Maybe it was the social worker in him. Maybe Julio just felt he really needed some help. And maybe, that’s all the robber did need, because he went. He went into the diner Julio frequented for dinner every night. And on this night, together, they sat in his booth.
"The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, and the waiters come by, to say hello," Diaz said. And "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here! Do you own this place?'"
"No, I just eat here a lot," Julio says, he told the young man. And, "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'"
Julio replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?"
"Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the young man said.
Julio asked him, what he wanted out of life. With a sad face, the young man just looked down at the table. Unable or unwilling to answer.
They finished their meal together, and when the bill arrived, Julio told his robber, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this, 'cause you have my money. So, if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you."
The young man didn’t even think about it. He returned the wallet. When Julio got it back, he opened it, and gave his robber $20, figuring he needed the money. But Julio then asked for something in return — the knife. And the mugger gave it to him.
Apparently this is just the kind of guy Julio is, and you can see why he might have gravitated to social work. When he got home and told his mother what happened, she said, "You were always the type of kid, that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch!"
And then Julio finished the StoryCorps piece by saying: "I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."
Simple, yes – and also really hard! Loving your neighbor can be difficult enough. But loving your enemy – that's crazy and hard!
I wasn’t sure I should use this story today. I don’t want to suggest that any of you try what Julio did. But I like it, because, not only is it moving, but it illustrates the good-news of the Gospel, which can lift us up, past the many ways we would otherwise feel victimized.
In the situation of the gospel, those who heard the Sermon on the Mount were being squeezed, and told by the religious elite of Jerusalem, they were nothing but unwashed sinners. But under Roman Occupation, any of these things could happen anytime. For example, a soldier could compel you to carry supplies… for up to a whole mile. It reminds me a lot of the arbitrariness of life under occupation in Palestine still today. The check point may be open or closed when you get there, to try to go to work, or bring your produce to market. You may be detained, or not. Your house can get demolished at pretty much anytime. You can take it to court, but most would rather settle first. Most of us don’t live exactly in this kind of disorientation and uncertainty, like a police state. But in some cases, some of us may know what it's like, to be shown, in no uncertain terms, who the boss is, who has the power, and it keeps us off balance.
And, physical harm that can come out of nowhere, isn’t culture bound. Domestic and sexual violence and abuse. School bullying. Mugging. Someone can steal our bike right out from under you. Or your wallet. Or your wedding ring. Or your I-Phone, taken right out of our hands on the train. We’ve given up a lot of dignity and civil liberties in our fears of terrorism, and the new scanners make us feel exposed. Cancer and heart disease seem like evil personas that rob us of our family members and friends. Alzheimer’s can take away our loved ones, right in front of our eyes.
In Jesus’ examples today he has someone going to court who’s been ordered to even surrender the shirt off his back to pay his credit card bill, and ends up down to his skivvies. Homes are being foreclosed. Our pensions are being reneged on. Services are cut to the most needy. Almost any of us can walk into work one day and receive a pink slip… stripped of work we love, stripped of livelihood, out pounding the pavements for years. It seems like there is nothing we can do about it but put ourselves out there, brace ourselves for the rejection, and pray things turn around soon. Many of us live today in circumstances where we feel both our physical livelihood and our human dignity is challenged, and our basic trust is at risk.
Who wouldn’t just hunker down? Who wouldn’t just swallow the shame? I guess the other alternative would be to defy, retaliate if you can. Sink into bitterness. Make a way of life out of victimization. Sue.
But Jesus seems to suggest another way. The way of love that flavors the salt, and powers the light. He talks about a certain way of generosity and living large above and beyond, in the midst of it all, that rises up and restores our dignity by not accepting the terms of the humiliation and belittling. By letting it go, as a world that is passing away. But I say to you – said Jesus – live in this new world…
Julio said: "I figure, you should be nice to everybody – you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."
"Yea,” the young man had said, “but I didn't think people actually behaved that way."
I just keep thinking about how, in the face of fear and violence, Julio didn’t lose his humanity. He didn’t lose his ability to consider the other, even when he himself was under attack. He knew, in his core, who he was, and that the violence of this world cannot fundamentally destroy the light and life within him. He didn't think of himself as a victim, because he knew he was not powerless, even under knife-point, to love.
It’s not the way of the world – this world, anyway. But Jesus, who had enemies, who knows what it is like to be oppressed, teaches this way. Jesus, who will know what it is like to be at the mercy of the man, and the muggers, and the crowd, and the crucifiers, who will be forced to carry his own cross, and will be spat on and humiliated, and yet reaches out to the thieves beside him, and prays for those who put him there… blazes the trail to a way of standing up for ourselves, to the life that is Life, and not losing ourselves, in the midst of all that would seek to cut us down and snuff us out.
Wow. It’s really hard. It’s almost crazy. But so is God’s love for us in Jesus! You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Lord, show me the way to love – to open up, and not close down – in a complicated world.