Luke 6:27-38 I had an interesting experience this week. I sat down at a table with a group of Lutheran pastors, with their bibles open to our gospel lesson today, who did everything in their power, with their considerable intellectual gifts, to explain away these words—to assure themselves and their congregations this week that Jesus did not really mean what he says right here.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
I want to be very, very clear: I am not criticizing my brother pastors, not in the least! I want to explain away these words too! I want to console myself with some reason why Jesus is not really saying, what he is clearly saying, about love for others. I want to say…
Jesus, do you really mean to say I have to give to everyone who begs from me? What about all of those who are going to misuse my money? What about all the scammers?
Jesus, do you really mean I have to pray for those who mistreated me and misused me and bless those who have cursed me?
Jesus, do you really mean that I have to love my enemies and do good—active, concrete acts of goodness to those who hate me? Can that actually be what you mean?
You understand now, don’t you, if you have really thought about these words just a bit, the dilemma of the pastors around that table? We are made up of exactly the same flesh as you are. We are no different! Our hearts and minds rebel at the thought of this kind of love because we know how those around us will misuse us and mistreat us if we love them like that.
Surely this can’t be what the Lord means! And yet, these are the plain words Jesus spoke. These are the plain words the Holy Spirit caused to be written down in Luke’s Gospel. There is no other honest way to read them than as Jesus spoke them and Luke wrote them: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Our flesh screams out its protest! And yet, here’s the thing: this is exactly the same kind of love that we not only wish for FROM others, but expect and demand! Jesus says: As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Don’t we expect and demand that our spouse forgive us and keep on forgiving us no matter how many times we make the same mistake? Wouldn’t we be, in turns, furious and heat-broken if they said to us, “That’s it! No more forgiveness for you! I’ve had it! We’re done!?”
Don’t our children expect (as their right) our cloak and our tunic and our goods?! Wouldn’t we all be appalled and ashamed to count us the number of times we said to our parents, “I want” compared to “I love you.”?
We may want to explain away the words of Jesus about loving our enemies but we have very clear ideas about what kind of love we want from others: and that is the kind of love he describes that has no limits. Now then…
What we are actually able to give to others and what we actually receive from them is something else altogether.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 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.
Here is a “love” that we are familiar with, isn’t it! Here is a love that we can accomplish! In fact, here is the love we think we ought to give—the love we measure love by.
We know all about a love for friends and family. We know all about social obligations that carefully measures where I am in every personal interaction and moderates my response so that it is proportionate to what I have already received. We know all about a love where we give to get.
But so does everyone else know and practice that kind of love—even those who are not Christians.
And truth be told, even by this low standard of a sinner’s love for another sinner, we don’t always-- or even often measure up. Who can honestly say that we love those who love us like we should-- to say nothing of loving our enemies?
You see now why my brother pastors wanted some way of escape for themselves and their congregations from Jesus’ words about loving our enemies—because they seem so impossible. And of course, they are!
And yet they are God’s expectation of us regarding the love we have for our neighbor. These words are what love really is and when we read those words about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us-- and even when we measure ourselves the standard of a sinner’s love for another sinner, we begin to really grasp—perhaps for the first time—how lacking love for others is in our lives.
If Jesus is serious—if this really is the standard—if this is really God’s expectation for us in our love for others—we have failed and we will fail again and again. And that’s true.
But there is one who didn’t. There is one who loved others just exactly this way and it is the one who spoke these words. It is Jesus.
Jesus was the one who loved his enemies. Jesus was the one who cared for those who hated him. Jesus was the one who spoke blessing from the cross to those who cursed him below. Jesus waas the one who never turned his back on the needs of others. Jesus is the one who forgives again and again no matter how often we fail.
Jesus is the one who was stripped of his last earthly possession and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus is the one who bestows the riches of his resurrection upon those who sent him to his death.
Dear friends in Christ, let us be very, very clear: that is you and me. It is our lack of love, our self-seeking concern for others, our pinched and narrow and limited care for those around us, that led Jesus to the cross where Jesus died for those who did not love him.
This is the love that Jesus has for us and there is no limit to that love. We can go to him again and again with the same sins and failures and know that we will be forgiven. We can wander from him again and again and know that he will seek us out each time to welcome us back. We can go to him again and again in our needs and trust that he will give us more than we could ever imagine or hope for.
That is the merciful love that Jesus has for us and that is the merciful love that we are to have for others. Jesus says:
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. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Jesus is the Son of the Most High. He is the only-begotten Son of God. He is the Son given into death for sinners—the Son given for us-- so that we too would be sons and daughters of the Most High and show that in how we love others.
You see dear friends in Christ, that while the words of Jesus about love were most certainly fulfilled in his life, death, and resurrection, they also still stand as God’s enduring will for us and they have been changed forever by Jesus from words of condemnation, to words of invitation to live a life of genuine, sacrificial, merciful love for others—even for our enemies.
Trusting in this God of mercy we are different people than we were before and we begin to see a way forward, a way of possibility, a way of growth in Christ-likeness.
Joseph knew that way. He forgave those same brothers who sold him into slavery and he poured out the riches of Egypt upon them. Corrie Ten Boom forgave the Nazis who sent her to a concentration camp and killed her family and did everything in her power after the war to heal the wounds of her nation. The Amish forgave the man who killed their little daughters and made it their first concern to care for his orphaned children after his suicide.
I knew an elderly lady in Kingsville who as a child was abused and mistreated by men in her family in ways too terrible to mention. And yet throughout their life she cared for them and forgave them.
And here’s the thing: looking at those folks from the outside I still wonder how anyone can forgive Nazis, and care for those who have destroyed our family, and love those who have hurt us. There is no human way to understand that love and mercy and forgiveness and care until you have known the same from Jesus.
He is the one who shows us that the way of love leads to blessing for us and those around us. He says:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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 stand, by faith, at the foot of the cross we see God’s innocent Son judged guilty of our sins. We see the condemnation of a holy God poured out upon his sinless Son rather than us. And we hear words of forgiveness spoken to a world full of sinners.
Judgment and condemnation do not rest in our hands but in God’s. We do not get to pronounce it upon others because it has already been pronounced upon the Savior for a world full of sinners—including those who have harmed us.
What HAS been given to us, forgiveness and mercy and love, a good measure, pressed down and shaken down, has been given to us so that it might overflow into the lives of others—including those who have harmed us.
You see dear friends in Christ, that is what changes for us as we hear these words of Jesus about loving our enemies—not the words themselves, not what they mean. Never! But what changes IS US, in hearts and minds that are so full of mercy and forgiveness of Jesus that we say: yes, Lord, with your help I will love my enemies! Amen.