Luke 6:27–38 (ESV)
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
When we approach scripture, it is important to remember that each of us bring something with us. We each have lenses or some sort of perspective that we interpreted life through. Although we attempt to read scripture for what it is, we often find our perspective coming through. There are people that believe that the God of the Old Testament and that of the New are different, this difference is largely perspective, because everything taught in the New Testament is found in the Old. Jesus did not teach anything new, even though he said he is giving his disciples a new commandment near the end of his ministry, that new commandment was not necessarily new, but was new to their thinking.
I will continue to mention we each read our own lives into scripture, because it is true. We cannot help it, because we live and experience life. Each of our life experiences give us a perspective that is different. When I read a passage, different words attract my attention than the words that attract yours. Those words are what I meditate on, those are the ones that water and feed my soul, but for you they might carry no meaning at all. I will give you an example. My son, James and I, are reading doing a reading plan together. We are using the YouVersion Bible App, which is free if you have a smart phone. In this app you can add friends and read together and share your thoughts. A couple of weeks ago as I was reading a verse just seemed to grip my attention and would not let it go. I found the verse funny and challenging, it has caused me to stop and rethink many things. The verse was Matthew 15:16, “’Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them.”
I told you that Jesus had a sense of humor. I think Jesus had an amazing grasp of sarcasm. He basically called his disciples stupid and guess what I am one of those disciples. Those words that were written are just as much for me as they were for the disciples that walked with Jesus. But why would he call his disciples dull? Because, they like each of us look at scripture from their perspective and were not willing to accept an alternative interpretation. They thought they were right and everyone else was wrong. And the problem with this way of thinking is we will often miss the point.
The people came out there because Jesus had power. He could heal, he could provide for a family’s lifestyle, and he taught things that made them think differently about life. Jesus came down from the mountain and he looked at the crowd, they brought people with illnesses to him and he provided them with relief. There were some that we in the bondage of spirits and they were released. There were Jews and Gentiles, there were people accepted and rejected by society, there were people considered rich and others who were dependent on others for their survival. Basically, the entire spectrum of human experience was represented on that plain, and Jesus lifted his eyes to them.
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he began, “Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.” We struggle with these words. We struggle because our perspective, our life experiences may not resemble those of the people who originally heard those words. Yet those words, cause us to think. They cause us to stop for a moment and consider what is going on around us.
I mentioned last week that many have taken those words and have encouraged people to engage in the work of social justice. I think that this is not enough, because when Jesus speaks of these blessings and woes he is speaking of the extremes of society. Everyone on that social continuum has needs and all are needed. And when Jesus pronounced those words, he was encouraging us to consider where we are and who is around us.
Today we meet again on that plain, we continue to hear the teachings of Jesus as he look up to this crowd, and today he says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Do we hear or were our ears shut off at the mention of social justice?
Jesus’s ministry was not in a vacuum. He was ministering to people that lived in a very real place, a place that had been on the crossroads of empires for its entire history. There were those in that crowd that had the idea that the messiah of God would be a conquering king that would throw the chains of bondage off Israel and drive Rome to the sea. There were those in the crowd that had a completely different view. There might have even been some in the crowd that anticipated not one messiah but three. The ideas in ancient Israel were diverse, and often we neglect to consider that these people of ancient eras had ideas, ideologies, and opinions just like us. Even among Jesus’s disciples there were different opinions. When this diverse group of people heard the words of Jesus that day, they cringed just as much as we do today.
Love your enemies. This one statement turns many away from Christ. It is twisted and turned, it is justified and butchered trying to make it fit nicely into our ideologies, yet it still plagues our thinking. What does love your enemies mean? Does Jesus really mean enemies or does he simply mean people we do not get along with? Is there any way that we can get out of this and still be considered a follower of Christ?
We love and hate this passage. We love it because it sounds like a utopia, we hate it because we understand that life is filled with pain and struggle. We know that if we were to live this out, we would get hurt in some way. Why would Jesus say such a thing? We need to begin with love.
Most of us know that in the Greek language, the language that the gospels were originally written in, there are several words that we translate as love. Each of those words represent a different type of love. One is philia, or friendship, which is where the name of the city Philadelphia comes from. Another is eros, which is usually used for intimate love. Then there is empathy and tenderness like we have for children or kittens. And pragma which is the love that endures in relationships when eros has lost the fire. There is also philautia, the love of one’s self. Several words that were used to speak of vastly different forms of love, but each we translate simply as love. This is why we struggle with this verse. But none of those words for love are the type of love that is used here, agape.
Agape is the word that is used when the ancients referred to mercy, charity, the love of God to man and of man to for the good of God. We often refer to this type of love as unconditional love, or as one scholar explained it, “to will the good of another.” This is the word that is used in this verse. I want us to consider that meaning as we consider the verse. “But I say to you who hear, will the good of your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”
To love an enemy is to hope for mutual good. The past few weeks I have been reading and listening to a book series that speaks about the history of the establishment of England. It takes place in ancient times when there were wars between the Danes and the Saxons, and Alfred is the last of the Saxon kings, yet he has a vision of a united kingdom of England. Prior to this the lands of Briton were divided into several small areas, some of the areas were predominantly influenced by the Danes and other Norse groups, others were settled by Saxons, and then there were the Britons and Scotland. There was peace between some and war between others. Alfred was a Christian, and the Danes were pagan. The pagan religion of the Norsemen honored the warrior, and to get the greatest blessing in the after life they needed to die with a sword in their hand. Alfred and the Christians had a different view, they wanted peace. Yes, they participated in great battles, but Alfred often offered them mercy, an alternative way to exit the battle without a fight. In the stories I have been reading this irritated the Danes because it completely opposed everything about their world view. It did not make worldly sense yet as the Danes plundered the churches and monasteries some wondered why people would live such a life. They would continue to plunder and wonder. They would listen to the priests and some converted.
I do not mention this because I think we should glorify the life of the Saxon King Alfred, but I mention it because he according to the story, tried to live a devout life of faith. He willed the good of another, he offered a different option even for his enemies. And at times it cost him a great deal, it nearly cost the kingdom.
When Jesus says love your enemies, he is encouraging us to find other ways to change the direction of life. He is encouraging us to stop looking at those around us as enemies but to look at them as human beings loved by God.
I remember when I was preparing to go to Ukraine, my grandpa told me that he would pray for me. He was going to pray because I was going to go to the land of the enemy. I love my grandpa. I have learned a great deal from him and he one of the people who has encouraged my faith the most. Yet I remember him saying that. I remember even thinking that myself. When I began to talk to the students in Ukraine, I found out something different. The stories they were told of us were very similar to the stories we were told of them. They feared the nuclear winter brought on by America just as we feared the nuclear holocaust perpetrated by the Soviets. They wanted their children to go to school and to get a good job, just like we want ours to do the same. They wanted the same things, they just had a different idea as to how those things would happen. Once I heard about the life of those students, I realized that we really were not enemies, we were just people. People with hopes and dreams. People that wanted a better life for ourselves and our children.
Love your enemies, Jesus says, will their good, “and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Jesus did not really teach anything new. Everything that he taught was grounded in the teachings of the law. It was required in Torah to treat even the aliens that lived in their land as they would treat their fellow Israelites. The Golden rule was taught by all the great rabbis, because to treat others as you would like to be treated is nearly a universal law. The idea behind all of this is, if you do not start peace who will? If you do not start living your life willing the good of another who will? If every moment of our lives is dedicated to only getting the best only for yourself, where does that leave the rest of the world?
The blessings and the woes, and the loving your enemy go hand in hand. They speak of the same things. We need and we are needed. Each of us are important not only to God but to each other. When we begin to think that we are more important than another, we begin to participate in that continuous cycle that leads to death and destruction. Yes, some have different abilities, and yes some have different gifts, but we all need and are needed. We are commanded to will the good to them, to live our lives in such a manner that all around us are better off because we are here. If you own a business you direct that business in such a way that it benefits all involved: the customer, labor, and management. If one aspect suffers the entire relationship suffers. And when the relationship suffers eventually it will fail. This applies in every relationship. To encourage our children, we do not simply give them gifts, but we train them and teach them so that they will know how to survive. When they turn from the ways of God, do we stop? No, we continue to encourage, and will the good, but we may have to adjust how we do it. Marriages also must be lived in such a way that we will the good to the other. We do everything for our mutual benefit, not just self. This is what agape is all about. To love other, to love our enemies is doing all we can to find an alternative direction where we can walk together.
How do we do this? How can we love when they continue to do the very things that infuriate us? How can we encourage when we have tried everything we can possibly think of? This is why the lifestyle Jesus taught is so important. We need and are needed. We do not have everything we need in ourselves, we need others to help us get to the places we need to go. This is why Jesus made it his custom to go to worship with the community, why he withdrew often to pray, and then engaged in ministry. We need others to encourage and to listen to us as we gather to worship, we need time in prayer where we can release our frustrations and petition God for direction, so that we can enter our relationships again. We need and are needed. We are poor and we are rich. We are the friend and the enemy, but what will we do? Will we hope and strive for the good or sit back and complain? Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those who abuse you. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.