The story is told of a little silver-haired lady who called her neighbor and said, “Please come over and help me. I have a killer jigsaw puzzle, and I can’t figure out how to get started.”
Her neighbor asked, “What is it supposed to be when it’s finished?”
The silver haired lady said, “According to the picture on the box, it’s a rooster.”
Her neighbor decided to go over and help with the puzzle.
She lets him in and shows him where she has the puzzle spread all over the table.
He studied the pieces for a moment, then looks at the box, then turned to her and says, “First of all, no matter what we do, we’re not going to be able to assemble these pieces into anything resembling a rooster.”
He then took her hand and patted it and said, “Secondly, I want you to relax. Let’s have a nice cup of tea, and then” he said with a deep sigh, “Let’s put all the Corn Flakes back in the box.”
What is it supposed to look like when it is finished is a really good question, isn’t it? And that was a lot like the question that the people in Corinth are asking the Apostle Paul as well. What will we look like in the end when we are finished? What will we look like after the resurrection? People then and people now want to know what kind of body we will have. Will we have wings? Will we be able to fly? Will we recognize people who have gone before us? What will we be like? Paul doesn’t tell us exactly does he? We know more what we won’t be like than what we will be like. We are told we will not have a physical body that will deteriorate like our present ones. Our new bodies will not be perishable or weak nor will they fail us dishonorably like our present ones do. In fact our new bodies will be glorious, powerful and imperishable! But again, we still do not have a good picture do we? But in our gospel reading we begin to see what we will be like.
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? What kind of person actually loves his enemies? What kind of person will do good deeds for those people who are hateful and hate him? What kind of person will bless and speak well of those people who are cursing him and saying bad things about him? What kind of person prays for people who abuse them? What kind of person offers his cheek to be struck after already being hit the first time? What kind of person gives to everyone who asks and lends to anyone without expecting for what was lent to be returned? That’s not even practical much less very livable is it?
How could Jesus tell us these things? What kind of person lives like this? This is the kind person, this is the kind of people we, you and I, are meant to be. This is how we are to become. We may not have been told exactly what our bodies are going to look like in heaven but right here Jesus is describing the kind of people who will be living there. How will we fit in? Jesus is describing a new kind of person, a new humanity, isn’t he? This new kind of person is able to give to others. This new kind of person is able to be totally unselfish. This person is able to do good to others who may even hate him.
It was under Emperor Marcus Aurelius that one of the more severe persecutions of the early church was instituted. But during the end of his reign in the year 165 a devastating epidemic swept through the Roman Empire (historians speculate that it might have been measles or small pox). Through this disease about one third of the population died, in fact the emperor himself died from it. People living in the cities were terrified and moved out into the country or to another city and they abandoned those who were sick out of fear of catching the disease themselves; they wouldn’t even bury those who had died. Christians however, did not move out of the cities. In fact, Christians not only stayed but went into the homes of those who had been their enemies, those who had only months before been trying to kill them or who had confiscated their property or levied huge fines upon them. These Christians went to care for these people as they lay sick and dying. Christians also buried the dead which the others had left. Obviously many Christians then got sick and died as well. But, as any medical person would understand, having fresh water, some food, and basic care certainly increased the odds for overcoming a sickness. And more people who no doubt would have died did not because Christians were willing to give themselves to serve anyone who needed them, even their enemies.
I am also reminded of the story of Dirk Willum. Dirk was an Anabaptist during a time when being an Anabaptist was a crime punishable by death. (An Anabaptist was a Christian who believed only adults should be baptized.) Dirk was captured and imprisoned. Knowing that his fate would be death if he remained in prison, Dirk fashioned a rope from strips of cloth and escaped over the prison wall. But he was seen and was chased. Frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked it. He made it across safely, but the ice broke under one of his pursuers, the one closest to Dirk and the man cried out for help. Dirk turned around, came back and pulled his enemy from the frigid water. In gratitude, that man would have let Dirk escape, but others were there and Dirk was re-captured. He was taken back to prison and executed, burned alive at the stake on May 16, 1569.
In August of 1878 yellow fever invaded the city of Memphis. While 30,000 people left the city over 20,000 remained and Constance, mother superior and her six fellow nuns were among those who stayed so that they could care for the sick and dying. By the time the plague had ended more than 90% of the population who had remained had contracted the fever and over 5,000 people had died. Of the seven nuns who remained two lived, Constance and five of the other women perished.
Christian history is full of such examples of people who were willing to love and care for others even at the cost of their lives. How would we be able to live like this? We are not able and we will never be able unless we begin to grasp the love God has for us. Scripture teaches us that we able to love even our enemies because God loves us. Yet, this sort of person who is able to love like this is the sort of person God created us to become. This is the kind of people we were meant to be. This is the sort of person that is God’s child and IF we want to be part of God’s family this is the sort person we need to be like.
What are we supposed to look like when we are finished? Not a rooster, nor corn flakes, we are supposed to look like this, a person who loves others even those who may hate us. Amen