We’ve been discussing the Didache at Journey, and last night we had an interesting conversation about the verse “Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts” (1:4). I know- you think you can guess what follows this. But you’d be wrong. Here’s what the Didache says immediately following that verse: “If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other also, and be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two. If someone takes your cloak, give also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, don’t ask for it back. You really cannot.”
Leave it to the early church to remind us that retaliation, violence, hoarding and greed are “fleshly and bodily lusts” unbecoming to Jesus followers.
Another strand of our conversation came around the idea of these “forces” of discord, conflict, ungraciousness being described in a way that one of our community members, Misty, called “primal.” We are like tigers crouching, eager to pounce in our attempt to gain power or control over any number of things. One look through the headlines and in our own mirrors and this sounds about right.
Just to balance that sobering reality with a little hope (you know me, I’m in the hope business), here’s another thing about us that is primal: altruism. My husband forwarded this NY Times article to me and I found it quite fascinating. Here’s a snippet:
Brain scans by neuroscientists confirm that altruism carries its own rewards. A team including Dr. Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that when a research subject was encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, parts of the brain lit up that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like eating or sex.
The implication is that we are hard-wired to be altruistic.
Of course, I attribute this to being created in the image of an altruistic God. This doesn’t mean that we still don’t have struggles with the crouching power-hungry tiger that often lives inside of us, but it does mean that we are absolutely capable of choosing, in the Didache’s words, the way of life. And wouldn’t you know it- we are even happier when we do so.