Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 [Jesus said:] 27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do 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. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If 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. 35But 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. 36Be 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; 38give, 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.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus tells us in this text to love our enemies. That’s a difficult thing to encourage people to do. Paul, I believe, noted that difficulty, and took a stab at solving that difficulty when composing the letter to the Romans. At the end of chapter twelve we read this from Paul: If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals upon their heads.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to heap burning coals on the heads of their enemies? I must have seized on this as a child, because I remember being told that those burning coals would be the receiver’s own shame helping them to improve their lives, and not actually a punishment I’d be dishing out to them.
Jesus, though, gives no such incentive. In fact, the words of Jesus here are so radically opposite of what is expected, that they have been misused into abuse by countless people through the years and even today. Abused spouses have been commanded to turn the other cheek to the point of being murdered. Caring grandparents have given away tens of thousands to try to help grandchildren who didn’t even know their names were being used for scams. People have used scriptures like this reading we have before us today to keep slaves in bondage, to keep workers too poor to attempt to leave for something better, and to make kind-hearted people nearly destitute.
It’s good that Jesus included, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” because I’m quite sure Jesus wasn’t advising us to abuse others, confident that we could then use Jesus’ words to demand they forgive us. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is what Jesus says, but what actually happens in this world seems pretty much the opposite. The world seems to say: Do whatever you can without getting caught. This world’s wisdom tries to tell us to “take what you can, because no one’s going to give it to you.” Left to our instincts, that’s often what happens. What’s called natural selection allows the strong to survive while the infirm die out.
Jesus calls for a different way, and we can follow his words in ways that do not result in tragedies like those I’ve named already. There is a difference between loving one’s enemies and capitulating to the enemies’ continued abuse. Jesus says to turn the other cheek… I’m confident Jesus meant to give the abuser a chance to step back, to see the wrong, and to apologize. If the abuser instead strikes again, walk away.
We’ve all experienced the abuse of power in some ways, even right here at Concordia. We are not alone in that. We’ve also enjoyed the warmth of God’s love in many and various ways. We’re not alone in that, either!
So, without accusing, or judging, or condemning anyone, how do we love our enemies?
Maybe we start by realizing that God does not choose not to love those who sin, those who separate themselves from God in some rather imaginative ways. So all those other people out there, they’re not unloved by God, even when they’ve decided to do evil things. –even when they define what we see as evil as good things. God loves the sinners, all of us.
If God chooses to love the ones I might define as enemy, then should I not do the same?
Maybe a good first step is to discard that word, enemy. I don’t want to be your enemy, and I don’t want you to be my enemy. Jesus here says, “Love your enemies.” The commandments instruct us how to love our neighbors. Therefore, should we not be treating both friend and enemy with the same set of guidelines?
We’ve been looking at the Ten Commandments in Confirmation Class, and in looking at them, we see that Martin Luther described not only what we are not to do in order not to break those commandments, but also what we ought to do on the positive side. Though it might seem that this idea originated with Luther as he wrote the Small Catechism, we can see the beginnings of that way back in Deuteronomy and Exodus where the commandments are first recorded. That part that Luther uses as a summary of all the commandments, that talks of punishment for those who fail and steadfast love for those who love? It’s really right there. We don’t have to be stuck in the “Do this or else!” mind frame. Rather than being stuck in the punishment cycle, we can step out into the cycle of love that the Bible tells us lasts for thousands of generations rather than the three or four referenced in the punishment portion.
So, rather than dividing into sides, saying, “These are my friends, and those are my enemies,” planning to do good to those on this side and fight against everyone else, maybe we can bring things together.
Maybe we decide to treat everyone with God’s love, a love that does not reward evil, but instead distributes good. Everyone is loved, not in a way that lets things slide when we’re in the wrong, but in a way that encourages better things moving forward.
Of course we need always to act with caution. We do live in a world of sinners. We do our best, therefore, to make sure that all things are done decently and in order to the best of our ability. This means we practice extra caution when someone with a history of abuse is in our midst, and then we move forward, modeling the best kind of love we can.
Some say that the easiest way to love your enemies is not to have any enemies. I believe it’s often harder to love your friends, because they expect you to let things slide, not to hold them accountable when they err, when they make mistakes.
I believe the future can be brighter than the present, because I know the power of God’s goodness is greater than the power of that which tries to stand against it. I believe we can love our enemies, because when we listen well enough to them, we hear ourselves.
So, how do we love our enemies? We love them the same way we love our friends, sharing what they need and accepting what they offer in godly love. Since God loves us, we can love each other, enemies and friends.
This is my prayer.
In Jesus’ name.