“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. – Luke 6:27-36 (CEB)
After Jesus gives us four beatitudes (with matching woes – see verses 20-26), he moves into the reality of what these mean in practice. Jesus’ opening phrase – “But I say to you who are willing to hear” – tells those in the crowd that they might not like what comes next. Some may have stopped listening after the beatitudes, convinced that Jesus is clearly not living in the real world. Others may have stopped listening with the woes, hearing themselves as excluded from God’s blessing. Jesus offers a challenge.
Are we willing to listen?
Jesus starts right in with the hard stuff: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” I imagine that many stopped listening when they heard these declarative statements. Jesus isn’t simply offering some advice on how to deal with difficult people – he is commanding us to love, do good, bless and pray for those who do the opposite to us.
This sounds good – and something good church people should agree with – but I doubt many people embrace this teaching enthusiastically. It’s just too hard. And to be totally honest, often I just don’t want to.
As we continue through the passage, Jesus makes it even stickier for us. We may be thinking in our hearts, “Why should I do that, the person who is hating and mistreating me certainly isn’t.” But Jesus tells us that this is not our standard. Jesus is just like the parent who tells their children that they cannot control how somebody talks or acts towards them, but they can control their response. But Jesus wants us to go further than simply not responding with the same poor behavior but to actually love them.
This love that Jesus talks about is not simply tolerating bad people. Jesus’ word for love here is agape (αγαπε). He calls us to self-less love.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:7 (NRSV)
Jesus expects us to have one standard for all people, just as God does. In Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5:45), Jesus expands this by saying that just as God lets the sun shine and the rain fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike – so, too, should we. God loves all people with agape love – and the apple shouldn’t fall far from the tree.
As I thought about these hard words over the past week, a number of things came to my mind.
- We are told that the families of the victims at Emanuel AME church told the shooter they forgave him. This doesn’t mean they think he should go free, but they are choosing to let hate die – and grace to live.
- As I thought about this, and how saying these words is one thing but living them each day after such a terrible loss is another, I remembered back to the story of the paralytic. When the religious leaders scoffed at Jesus’ statement of forgiveness, Jesus asked them, “Is it easier to say sins are forgiven or say get up and walk?” (Luke 5:23) Both are actually impossible…without God. It’s only God’s agape love for us that creates the possibility that either may occur. The same is true with our passage today.
- I also thought of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 when he says that when we throw a banquet we should invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind because they can’t repay us (Luke 14:12-14). This is a physical manifestation of loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who mistreat us.
In the midst of the commands, Jesus asks us one question, two times: If we love and lend to those who we deem worthy, then why should we be commended (vv. 32, 34)? We may be able to let this slide because we’re not looking for commendation, right? I can be perfectly happy not to love my enemies and let it go at that. But the original language suggests something more. Literally the question translates: “What kind of grace (χαρις) is (this) to you?”
And this is our question – what kind of grace is that has been done to us? Certainly not a grace that was or is dependent on our worthiness and good deeds. It’s also not a grace unique for only a chosen few but offered generously to all. What type of grace do we deserve if we only offer grace to those we deem worthy?
But that’s just it. Grace isn’t given because you deserve it. And it’s not about the grace we will receive; it’s about the grace we have already received. We extend grace because it has already been extended to us. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we come because of Christ’s agape love. We are fed a meal of grace we will never be able to repay. We receive grace because of the giver. And this is what Jesus calls us to do as well.
Are willing to listen?
Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 (CEB)