I love to watch ice skating. One of the most mesmerizing ice-skates I have ever seen was a performance of Carmen on Ice starring Katarina Witt as Carmen. In an early scene Carmen, a walking trouble-factory, has been arrested and is being escorted to jail.
A guard has tied Carmen with a rope and walks her along holding the other end of the rope. But the guard is an inexperienced and naive young man. Carmen sees something the young official does not see: as he holds the other end of the rope and is bound by duty, the guard cannot escape from her any more than she can escape from him. And so she begins to toy with him. Even though she has been arrested it's clear from the way she carries herself: she is in charge. The young guard has little idea how far over his head he is.
It's easy to underestimate sin as an opponent. Whenever we wrestle with sin or temptation, even if we merely wrestle against another part of our own minds, we find ourselves up against an experienced and crafty opponent. Ever find yourself praying to forgive someone, and find yourself instead remembering the wrong and inflaming the resentment so that the resentment is worse than before? Or ever find yourself praying about a sin, only to find you've just given it your full attention by focusing on it? We're the naive young guard, and we can easily find ourselves over our heads. And like the guard, the problem is that we're not entirely sure within our own minds; one part of us would rather have the trouble.
Evil often tries to use us that way: even if we think we have it on a leash, it may be the one leading us around. And Jesus paints a similar picture: that we are slaves to sin. If we struggle with sin but then resentfully and reluctantly do things we do not want to do, then sin owns us. We're the prisoner, we're the captive -- another analogy that the Bible uses for our situation.
Consider how often Saul of Tarsus has been repeated in history: he sets out to stop what he is sure is evil, and instead finds himself doing terrible things and making excuses for terrible things. Or consider how easily justice becomes revenge, an infinite excuse to abuse someone who is hated, provided they have ever done something wrong. It's fairly easy for our good intentions to be turned around on us.
Jesus showed us how to do the same thing to evil: how to reverse things so that evil's opening move is turned around for the good, and for evil to find itself the one being outmaneuvered. He said to bless those who curse us. There is no shortage of people who curse us these days; is it really so hard to return a kind word? He said to do good to those who hate us. There are probably some around who hate us, and we know who they are; it is easy enough to find something good to do for them. He said to pray for those who persecute us, and he encourages us to greet more than just those who would expect it of us. These are more than inspirational words; they show us how to take evil's opening move -- or even an evil status quo -- and turn it into a reversal for evil, where all its plans backfire, and the harder it tries, the more thoroughly defeated it becomes, the more thoroughly its plans are frustrated.
Like Carmen we should know: the rope is in our hands. The question is who is more experienced and determined.
Here's a link to that segment of Carmen On Ice, if you want to watch. The segment starts with the fight that leads to the arrest, and then includes the arrest scene.