Luke 6:27-38 CEB
“But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.
“If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
There’s a lot in our scripture reading for this week! I almost feel as though any part, any sentence of today’s reading could make for a full sermon. However, I am going to focus on the most challenging piece because it is on one hand the most distinct trait of our Christian religion and on the other hand it's our most difficult tenant: to love our enemy. Let’s face it, we all struggle with this practice of loving our enemy, as it is often easier to be hostile instead. Jesus, in his words and actions, does not call us to live out what is easy but what is good and true, and that is to love our enemy as we love ourselves. For you see, God first loved us while we were still enemies to the Most High, extending us forgiveness and grace. God extended compassion and love beyond our measure, so it is probably not so surprising that God would turn around and tell us to extend love to others beyond their measure as well. This is good news, but it is also not easy news. Jesus knew we could not, on our own, extend this kind of grace, so Christ gives us the grace that we need to overcome one of the hardest asks of any Christian today, to love our enemy and do good by them.
Loving our enemy cuts against the grain of everything we know to be true. Our enemies often seek to do us harm. They may insult us, oppose us, hurt us, and seek to put us down. Instead of laying back and taking it, the world teaches us that we should respond and oppose them! In fact, this seems to be our natural response! If someone insults us, we respond in kind. If someone hurts us, it is far easier and often feels better to hurt them back. To not do this is often portrayed as cowardly. Look at our culture, how many of our movies and TV shows reflect this idea? How many start out with a protagonist who has been wronged? The rest of the story becomes about seeking revenge to make things right. Taken, True Grit, Unforgiven, and countless others play out this kind of story. Maybe these continue to speak to us because we all would like to be avenged for some wrong or another. Now, here comes Jesus to flip all of this onto its head, and we still struggle with this turn even after two thousand years.
Jesus tells us to love our enemy. In effect, God is saying, if you want to be a whole and healthy Christian, eat your vegetables. Take your medicine! We turn to God, and say that this is too bitter to swallow! We would rather that God turn a blind eye to our posters and signs, our social media posts, our passive-aggressive comments, and all the ways we seek to avenge ourselves on our enemies. Perhaps, there are times when we might even dress it up and say that we are struggling on behalf of what is good and right and godly! In truth, this is all window dressing to disguise our reluctance to swallow the bitterest of pills. In our scripture reading today, Jesus tells us what is good and right and godly. Jesus tells us plainly, if someone curses you, bless them. If they mistreat you, pray for them. If they are your enemies, do good to them and even give them money.
Now, many have seen these verses and say that they advocate passiveness in the face of evil, but I do not think that is true at all. Many look at these calls in our scripture to turn your cheek when someone strikes the other one or to give your shirt when someone takes your coat as ridiculous. That is fair as the gospel is ridiculous when compared to what the world holds as true. If we were to look at those movies and shows I mentioned, someone striking you or taking your coat would instead be the first act in your grand narrative of revenge making your enemy regret the fact that they ever thought they could do you wrong. In effect, the world would have us conflate our enemy with that which is evil. My friends, take a hard look at verse 31 this morning, “Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” We all like the idea of vengeance when it is directed toward someone else, but our gospel reading this morning carries a different message in its words.
If I seek vengeance against my enemy, what am I saying about what those who see me as an enemy are allowed to do? If I can insult, harm, put down, and silence my enemies, what does it say about what those who see me as an enemy can do to me? We have all heard, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but Luke this morning gives it a different spin. I do not see how this can be passive, as that would presume that I am always in the right and my enemy is always in the wrong. That I am good, and they are evil. What about when I am the enemy? Does it seem so passive then? I am keen to take an eye for an eye, but am I as keen to have my eye taken when I have blinded someone else? In truth, we have all probably been the villain in someone else’s story at some point in our lives. Do you see what Jesus is doing this morning? Our hunger to right our wrongs, to have our enemies brought low creates a cycle. We are all someone else’s enemy, and living in the world’s natural way means a never-ending cycle of harm and debts that can never fully be repaid. Jesus says that there is another way, that we must have grace in the face of our enemies.
Why though? How can we possibly manage this kind of love for our enemies? A good question and one that we can turn over to God’s example, for we are told in Romans 5, where Paul first says that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, but then in verse 10, he uses even stronger language, that Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God. Yes, we were the enemies of God, heaping abuse and insult and harm upon all the good things and good gifts of our creator. If we say that we should be avenged against our enemies, what does that say about what God should do with us? Instead, God showed us love beyond our measure. God turned us from enemies into beloved children through one mighty act that continues to transform our lives today. Jesus came to show us what it means to love an enemy, by paying with his own life to answer a debt and end a cycle we had no hope of reconciling or stopping. God, through this one act, gave us the kind of grace it takes to love our enemies and seek their good.
To do otherwise tells God that the Almighty should really limit the amount of grace and love shown to us. Look to the closing verses this morning, in verse 37, it says “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Each of these sentences contains two parts, the first outlines what we are to do, while the second part contains a future passive verb, namely that God will not judge or condemn us in the future if we don’t do it to one another. If we forgive, if we extend the grace first given to us, we in turn will receive grace and forgiveness. I think this is what the “great reward” and the “good portion” parts of our scripture this morning are referring to. Yes, it is hard to love an enemy, but if we try to practice it, God will meet us there in that act and give us the grace necessary to overcome what comes naturally for us and then to do what is the right, the good, and the godly thing to do. We as Christians have been forgiven, so it is an essential part of our nature to forgive.
Friends, if you were to examine the entire breadth of scripture, do you know what you will never find, a commandment or instruction to condemn another to hell or to judgment or suffering. Instead, you will find this message from scripture this morning, “Love your enemy.” This love again is the kind of agape love God has first shown us, and it is the kind of love we should seek to show one another. It is the kind of love that helps us to answer curses with blessings, mistreatment with prayers, hatred with love, and hurt with good things. It is the kind of love that does not seek repayment when it acts but seeks to instead build up and transform. This kind of love is the love we need in our own hearts and lives. Ask yourself, before you say something about or do something to another person, are you taking steps to make them your enemy or are you taking steps to love them and build them up? In the end, we must ask, are we moving closer to making someone else our enemy or are we making someone our beloved sibling in Christ, another child of God, a member of our human family? Loving an enemy is never easy, nor should it be, but in the end, it will shape us into the kind of people that will take this world from its natural state and transform it into the kingdom of our grace-filled God! The kind of kingdom where God takes enemies and makes them children, takes rebels and makes them disciples, and takes hearts filled with hatred and turns them into ones filled with love. Amen!
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Pastor Paul Grossman