New Revised Standard Version
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Hearing today’s text ought to make you cringe a bit. It could be considered akin to children seeing cooked spinach on their dinner plate that they are told they must eat if they want dessert. Their parents explain the nutritional value of this important vegetable. Starving children in Africa would love to eat this, they say (then send it to Africa the children respond!). In a final attempt to encourage the children to eat the spinach, the parents tell them it will make them strong like Popeye (do the kids even know who Popeye is?). Nothing encourages them to dig in. They would rather sit there looking down at the floor rather than eat the spinach even if it means they won’t have dessert.
This text from Luke is a difficult one to swallow no matter how it looks on the plate, even if it is couched in the trappings of a dessert. “Jesus,” we ask, “couldn’t you have left this off the menu? Who wants to love an enemy?”
Maybe you came to church today saying to yourself that you would really like a challenge. Maybe, just maybe, the preacher will ask me to love my enemies. If so, you will particularly enjoy this text and, possibly, this sermon!
We believe that the gospel message – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that offers forgiveness, salvation, and new life – is the good news for all people. We proclaim this every week. Jesus’ message here in Luke doesn’t sound like good news. This is just plain hard news.
Love your enemies. What is it that makes us so uncomfortable with these words of Jesus?
Then again, maybe these words don’t sound uncomfortable to you; not as harsh or hard as they may sound to others of us. You might think you already do many things that fit the bill. There are ways you are already loving your enemies:
· Praying for those difficult people in your life
· Donating extra clothes and food to those in need without judging whether one person or another actually is in need
· Buy toys at Christmas for children who don’t get them from others in support Star of Hope
· Willing to give the shirt off your back to someone who doesn't have one
· Forgiving those you think are unforgiveable
Overall, you consider yourself a follower of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Now, you might, at least in the back of your mind, be waiting for an acknowledgement of the effort you have put forth. A thank you from those you helped or a pat on the back from someone who knows what you do. That great reward Jesus promises.
Shouldn’t all I have done been enough? Enough to be rewarded?
Most likely, it isn’t enough. If we truly listen to what Jesus is directing the crowd to do, it definitely isn’t enough. Following Jesus, serving him, doing what we perceive is the right thing to do involves much more than following the Golden Rule.
When we really think about it, if we look deeply inside, we will discover that there is at least some part of us that sees the Golden Rule as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
If someone throws something at me, I want to throw something at them. If a driver backs into my car in the parking lot, I hope someone does the same to them. If someone cuts me off, I want to cut them off. If a work colleague takes credit for my ideas and work on a project, I want to figure out how to discredit them. If a classmate knocks my books off my desk, I want to knock her books off her desk.
It's just human nature we say. We are right! We look at life through the lens of a human being. We excuse ourselves for not being perfect. We acknowledge that we have faults. We tell ourselves that we are doing the best we can, and even better than most. You reap what you sow is our motto.
Because we see the world through our own eyes, it is even more critical that we not just read or hear Jesus’ words, but that we truly listen to what he says.
Jesus is calling for transformation. A complete makeover. A butterfly type of transformation: egg to caterpillar to pupa/chrysalis to butterfly.
This is the kind of transformation seen in the life of Joseph. The eleventh of twelve brothers, Joseph was the apple of his father’s eye. He, of technicolor dream coat fame, was boastful and full of pride. Joseph took every opportunity to let his brothers know that he would be greater than them.
Joseph’s brothers got back at him by selling him into slavery. They told a convincing story to their father about a wild animal attacking and killing their younger brother. They even brought their father Joseph’s colorful coat covered in blood.
Joseph experienced many ups and downs in his life in Egypt where he was taken. He felt like every time he took a step forward, he would then take two steps back. He earned the trust of important people and then was falsely accused of some act or another. Joseph was in an out of prison. In short, his early experiences in Egypt were not ones you would write home about.
Over time, God changed Joseph into a new man as his faith in God grew and as he practiced living God’s life rather than his own. Joseph learned to embody loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, being merciful, and not judging others.
The change in Joseph is seen in his encounters with his brothers. Joseph had every right to punish his brothers. To throw them in prison or make them slaves. To experience what he had gone through after they got rid of him. Instead, he takes a different tack. He goes another direction.
“Come closer to me,” he says to his brothers. They expected retribution. They felt they deserved whatever punishment Joseph would mete out. What they got, though, was forgiveness, mercy, and love.
Joseph refused to follow the typical path that would have been taken by many others in his situation. To do to others what had been done to him. Joseph chose a different way.
Let’s look at the Golden Rule from another perspective. Rather than understand the words, “do to others what you would have them do to you,” as a summary of Jesus’ instructions, consider this directive as a commentary on the Golden Rule. In other words, Jesus says, in essence, “do you want to know how to treat others as you would like to be treated? Do these things:
· Look beyond those who are part of your group, the people you are comfortable with, to people you usually would walk by or ignore
· Love the unlovable, no questions asked, no exceptions, even if the unlovable is yourself
· Forgive as you have been forgiven
· Act with the unmerited grace and love that you have received from God
What Jesus asks is more than seeing others from God’s perspective. He asks us to live from God’s perspective, recognizing that no one is unlovable in any way, including you. No one is unforgiveable. God forgives all who turn to God. Love them all. Forgive them all. Including yourself.
Not to say that any of this is easy. It isn’t easy. It is extremely difficult. The reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers took years. Challenging years for Joseph. Years of questioning and wrestling with anger and doubt. Years before Joseph was ready to see his brothers again.
We shouldn’t expect an overnight change either. Hearing Jesus’ words today doesn’t lead to loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, blessing those who curse you, and not judging others tomorrow. The change Jesus requires takes practice – a conscious effort to make new choices over and over. This is a life-long practice that only becomes ingrained within us through trial and error.
I remember a woman, let’s call her Joanne, who seemed to cross my path often – too often as far as I was concerned. I found Joanne extremely annoying. She seemed overly spiritual, always saying godly words, and giving godly advice. Every time I turned around there, she was to tell me what Jesus would do or how he would want me to act. Finally, I had enough. I threw up my hands and asked God to get Joanne out of my life.
God answered my prayer but not at all how I wanted or expected. God told me to pray for her. Reluctantly, I began to do so. Things changed. I changed. Through my prayers for Joanne, I began to see her differently. Over time, our relationship changed. We never became best friends, but we worked on projects and served together many times. I enjoyed those times and I have many good memories of Joanne.
Jesus asks us to recognize and take to heart the truth that God loved us while we were still sinners. Not because we figured out how to live God’s way on our own or have become good enough for God to love us. God loves us solely because of who God is not because of what we have done or who we are in our own eyes.
Remember that I said that this text from Luke is about transformation – about who we become in the process of being loved and forgiven by God and of loving and forgiving others and ourselves. We will never be able to love our enemies without the amazing grace that continues to transform us.
Our own actions, practice, best intentions, and convictions won’t bring about this transformation. Only grace does that. The unwavering grace of God that pervades our life. The grace that makes us fully and completely lovable. The grace that offers forgiveness we don’t deserve but receive because of who God is.
The church is intended to be serve as an example of what Jesus calls us to be and do, of the grace of God that is available to all. In our time, when many see the church as the hotbed of mistrust, abuse, and deceit, it is more important than ever that Christians seek to become the example Jesus expects. We are to be those who demonstrate that the church can be and is different than the news media has portrayed it as.
The church ought to be the people and the place where love pervades, forgiveness is freely offered to all, and grace abounds. That Amazing Grace we sing about:
“That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”