27 ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 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? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and 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 and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’
The experts tell us that Luke was written round about AD 85. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in AD 70, which was hugely traumatic for the Jews. And the trauma was working its way out in a variety of forms. We shouldn’t forget that what we now know as Christianity began as a subset of Judaism but at the time this was being written Jews and Christians were starting to split apart and go their own way.
In many cases this meant that families were being split up, and whole communities were being divided. So when Luke reminds the Christians of the words of Jesus in this sermon, they came with a very real edge. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man,” (Luke 6:22).
Jesus understands what this level of aggression and anger is like, but he doesn’t try to go easy here. There is no let up for the disciple. So to the listeners Jesus says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27). Remember yesterday we noted that though Jesus was speaking to a big crowd he addressed his disciples directly. Here he zooms in yet again, and is addressing those who are listening. This is a challenging word.
It’s hard to offer any deflection in the exegesis here.
Love your enemies.
Jesus describes three ways of loving enemies: do good to them, bless them, pray for them (Luke 6:27-31). Someone once said that all of Jesus teaching can be found somewhere in the prophets, except for this one - love your enemies. This is utterly new, and unique. And when Jesus describes how to do it, he will not allow us to be passive about it. We are too ‘do’ things about it.
And so he roots it in their place and time. If someone, strikes you on the cheek offer him the other one too. A strike on the cheek is a dismissive act, often delivered with the back of the hand. Turning the other cheek offers another strike with the flat of the hand and is an act of resistance. “I will not strike you back, but nor will I allow you to dismiss me as if I don’t matter. I am somebody and you will notice.” If they take your cloak, give them your shirt also, and stand there naked before them. Reduce their abuse of power to an absurdity.
But also, live with a reckless generosity.
Treat others the way you want to be treated and risk the fact that, though some may abuse your kindness and generosity, sufficient numbers may be inspired to change the way the world works. For our relationship to others is not to be determined by their past actions towards us, but rather by the way the future is set to turn out as the reign of God works its way out in the world.
Let’s begin gently. If you have someone who you might consider an ‘enemy,’ or someone who has abused your generosity and thereby hurt you, pray for them now. Later on, you can think of ways to ‘do good’ for them.
Jesus who knew rejection
For those who have ignored me
And isolated me and made me lonely
Jesus whose reputation was impugned
For those who speak ill of me
And tell lies about me
Jesus who endured the cross
For those who have hurt me
Physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Lord this is all I can do right now.
Strengthen me towards love
So that I may more fully follow
As one of your disciples.