*note: picture above is a statue of Jesus in Hallgrímskirkja – the iconic church in Reykjavík, Iceland.
I got into a crazy discussion with a pastor friend recently.
It all started when I answered a question honestly. My answer was something like this: “I don’t believe in guns.”
Chaos erupted in the room. Every eye was on me as I attempted to explain myself.
I tried to describe how, as a follower of Jesus, I embrace his way of non-violence, forgiveness-times-infinity, enemy-love, blessing those who curse, etc.
There were more questions. Hypothetical situations raised. Some ridicule. Maybe a little genuine curiosity too.
But then it got weird. Somehow the question of where Jesus was using hyperbole came up.
My friend asked me, “Why do you have both eyes? Why do you have both hands? Don’t you take the teaching of Jesus seriously? He said if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. He said if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. You mean to tell me that you’ve never sinned with your eyes and your hands?”
So I answered. “I think He was using hyperbole – exaggeration to make a point. Not meant to be taken literally. You know, the opposite of an understatement.”
And then I realized where he was going with this…
“Wait, you mean to tell me you think Jesus’ command to love your enemies is hyperbole?”
“And bless those who curse you?”
“Yes. Of course.”
I was stunned. To be honest, I didn’t think anyone believed this. Somehow I had always assumed this was a universally accepted clear and literal command of Jesus.
Well, some time has passed since our conversation-gone-weird. I’ve had opportunity to reflect and process.
My view hasn’t changed. I still believe it is my duty as a follower of Jesus to embrace his way of non-violence, forgiveness-times-infinity, enemy-love, blessing those who curse, etc.
I still believe “love your enemy” is not an exaggeration to make a point. And I still believe “bless those who curse you” is not just a figure of speech.
However, even if my friend is right (which I’m willing to admit is a possibility), I’d like to point out something about these famous words of Jesus…
When He said, “If YOUR eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” and “If YOUR hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” the hyperbole view of these statements takes Jesus to be saying, “Be ruthless with YOUR OWN SIN.”
And when He said, “Bless THOSE WHO CURSE,” and “Love your ENEMIES,” the hyperbole view of the statements takes Jesus to be saying, “Be relentlessly generous and gracious with OTHERS WHO SIN against you.”
My point is, even if we take these statements of Jesus as hyperbole, it doesn’t mean we are off the hook and can ignore him completely.
Or at all.