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It is natural for most of us to want to return a favour when someone helps us out. We may feel a sense of obligation to the person, or we may simply want to express our gratitude by giving them something back. A friend of ours recently shared about how she and her neighbours have been helping each other out. No one was obligated to reciprocate when they received help, but everyone wanted to return the favour in some way, if they could.
It is also natural for most of us to want to seek justice when someone is treated badly. We may feel revengeful towards the person, or we may simply want their punishment to fit their crime. When someone gets away with a crime or receives an inadequate punishment, many of us feel a sense of outrage.
Reciprocity is about people working together to build fair and stable families, communities and societies. When individuals contribute what they can, and help each other out, everyone benefits. When the bad behaviour of individuals is restrained in an appropriate way, everyone feels safer. The greatest threat to reciprocity comes from those who betray trusts, and take advantage of people’s generosity. But, there is a more-excellent-way that does not depend on what others do or don’t do.
Jesus lived a life of extravagant generosity and love, and He freely gave healing and hope to anyone who genuinely wanted His help; yet He was often confronted by blatant selfishness, ingratitude, hypocrisy, and even violent opposition. Even though He knew just how ‘fickle’ people can be, He never turned His back on them, no matter how bad they were. Most of us have no trouble returning the favour when someone helps us out, but few of us would find it easy to do good to a person who has been treating us badly.
Jesus was different. He taught His followers to love their enemies, repay evil with good, bless those who persecute you, be generous with those who cannot return the favour, and treat others the way you would want them to treat you (even if they don’t. His purpose is to give people the chance seek forgiveness and to turn their lives around – not condemn them.
While punishing people will restrain their bad behaviour and help us feel safe, Jesus knows that only love and forgiveness have the power to break the cycle and change their hearts. As His murderers watched Him die on the cross, Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was demonstrating loud and clear, just how much GOD truly loves us.
The Law upholds reciprocity, but the gospel offers us the grace we do not deserve. His forgiveness and hope are available to ALL who truly seek it.
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