Love Your Enemies
Love Your Enemies
Last Sunday we looked at Luke 6:12-26. We saw Jesus go up to a mountain to pray. When he came down from the mountain he gathered his disciples and chose twelve of them to be his “apostles”. That meant that they were his envoys, his personal representatives. They were to go out into the world to carry his message with his authority and to be received as Jesus himself would have been received. We’ve seen Jesus travelling through Galilee proclaiming that a new kingdom has come. Now these apostles are to go out to proclaim that new kingdom. But that means they need to know what the new kingdom looks like. And so Jesus gathers his disciples, with the new apostles in the front row and people gathered from as far away as Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon gathered on the fringes of the crowd, and he begins to teach them the basics of his new kingdom.
Again, as we saw last week, Luke deliberate portrays Jesus as a new Moses establishing a new Israel. Moses had gone up Mt. Sinai to meet with the Lord and when he came down he had the law, the torah, which became Israel’s charter. Through the giving of the law, the Lord created and called a people for himself—a people called to be holy, a people called to carry his message of light and life to the nations. Of course the problem was that Israel never fulfilled that mission. She kept God’s message of reconciliation to herself and used the law, instead, as a means to distinguish herself from the nations and to keep them out. The Lord’s message to the world got lost in Israel’s post office and never made it to the nations.
Now Jesus has come—the Messiah—to complete that failed mission, to find the lost letter, and to deliver its message of reconciliation to everyone. And so we saw Jesus go up the mountain to meet with the Lord and now he’s come down to his new Israel with the new law—with a new charter for his new kingdom. And yet it’s not really new. It’s what the Lord had promised to Abraham and to Israel all along. He had called them to be his people and to fulfil his mission. He had promised to pour out his blessing on them so that the world could see, through them, that he was a lavishly generous God who loves his creation and loves his creatures. But because Israel had failed to walk with him and had failed in her mission, the Lord had poured out his judgement on her instead. In Israel the nations saw God’s judgement. But this was all part of God’s plan. It paved the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come and take Israel’s role on himself. Jesus became Israel. He fulfilled her law and he also took her failure to fulfil the law—her sin—on himself so that in him it could be fulfilled and condemned and forgiven. In Jesus we see the Lord’s judgement, but we also see his love and his lavish generosity again. And that’s what Jesus’ sermon here is all about. This new kingdom, this new Israel, is completely reoriented around him and his mission because he is Israel’s representative—again, he’s become Israel himself. The old law defined the boundaries of God’s people and the new law defines the boundaries of God’s people, but they define those boundaries very differently. The old law became a means to keep people out of the kingdom. The new law defines the boundaries, but at the same time it also welcomes everyone in. Instead of showing God’s blessings poured out lavishly on one nation and one people, it shows the blessings of God lavishly poured out through Jesus on the whole world.
As we saw in the first part of the sermon, the Lord is ready to make the poor rich, to feed the hungry, and to comfort those who mourn. He’s ready to heal and to forgive all those on the outside of his salvation and to welcome them into his kingdom. But judgement stands alongside his blessing. Jesus also pronounced “Woe to you” on all those who are already rich, full, and laughing—on all those who have found their security in keeping God’s message of reconciliation and his blessings to themselves. That first part of Jesus’ sermon is the foundation for what comes next. Jesus is ready to offer God’s blessing—his love, his mercy, his grace—to people who have been on the outside and even to the Israelites, to the Pharisees, and to the scribes who had failed in their mission. But what are the practical implications of having been forgiven, of having been welcomed into Jesus’ kingdom, and of having been made rich, of having been filled, and of having been made to laugh? This is the point of the next part of Jesus’ teaching. The practical upshot of having received all of this is that Jesus’ people now carry his message of reconciliation to the nations. Think about it: Right here at the beginning, Jesus picks twelve men to be at the core of his ministry and he calls them “apostles”—apostles don’t keep their message to themselves; they’re heralds; they take the message to the world. Jesus’ people have experienced God. We’ve received his forgiveness, healing, and blessing and his character should now characterise us. And ultimately all of this is on display for the world to see. That’s our witness.
Look at verses 27 and 28. This is what Jesus’ kingdom, his new Israel, looks like. This is what the world should see when it looks at us.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
“Love your enemies.” That’s the most basic commandment of the new law. And it flies in the face of everything that everyone understood about how to deal with enemies. Yes, there were some philosophers who counselled that you should be willing to show compassion to your enemies—usually after you had defeated them—but that’s not the same as actually loving your enemies. Showing compassion to your enemy is simply trying to win him over once he’s down—it’s ultimately looking for something in return. What we see with Jesus is that he loves with no strings attached. He loves because God is love. And we’re to love because we’ve experienced God’s love ourselves in Jesus.
It’s about the insiders versus the outsider again. Think about the people you love the most naturally (and usually the most easily, even though some days it may be a challenge): your family. Of all the people we love, the ones for whom love comes most naturally are our mother and father, our sisters and brothers, and our children. When we look at our relationships, the further we get from our immediate family, the less obligated we feel to love. In fact, most people have trouble even thinking of “loving” a complete stranger, and loving an enemy—well—that’s just right out!
The law that Moses had given had only gone so far as to tell the people to love their neighbours and even that command the Jews had made easier by interpreting “neighbour” to mean “fellow Jew” and even then narrowing it even further to “fellow Jew in good standing”. Lepers and the unclean? No love owed there. Tax collectors and sinners? No. Gentiles? Definitely not; they were the enemy! But remember that Jesus has shown us who the real enemies are. The real enemies aren’t the Roman, the Herodians, the gentiles, or anyone else on the “outside”. The real enemies are sin and death. And that means that the last thing all those who are subject to sin and death need is hatred and condemnation. They don’t need to be kept on the outside because they’re unclean sinners. They’re the ones who need God’s message of reconciliation the most. They’re the ones that need to be drawn into the kingdom—rescued from sin and death!
Remember, we were all once enemies of God. Every one of us has rebelled against our loving Creator and fallen into the disobedience of sin. All of us are by nature God-haters. But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus came to graciously accomplish the mission that the Jews had failed and in so doing, he renewed Israel. But in accomplishing that mission, he also came to welcome the nations into his renewed Israel. All—Jew and gentile alike—are in need of forgiveness and redemption, and that’s what God has brought us in Jesus. And if our Creator has such great love for us, his enemies, Jesus tells us that his people should have just that sort of love for their enemies—for our enemies! Remember, our mission as Jesus’ people is to carry his message of reconciliation to the world. What better way to do that than to exhibit God’s love for us to all the world—and especially to those who oppose us just as we once opposed God.
And so the practical working out of this God-like love is that we do good to the people who hate us. When we’re cursed, instead of cursing in return, we bless. And when we’re abused, instead of returning the abuse, Jesus tells us to pray for our abusers. Brothers and sisters, yes, it’s hard to love your enemies, but it’s also hard to hate those for whom you do good, those whom you bless, and those for whom you pray. Love is a choice. Act first and the feelings will follow.
In verses 29 and 30 Jesus gives some specifics examples as to how this might work out in real life.
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.
In Jesus’ example we really see just how upside-down this kingdom way of thinking is. Life is sacred. God has told us that. If someone strikes you, you have a right to defend yourself. The same goes for your property. Stealing is wrong. You have a right to protect yourselves from thieves and robbers. But in light of what Jesus has done for us, we should have different values. Consider that each of us has waged an assault on God’s throne, spending our lives trying to topple him and take control of the world ourselves. In our sin we’ve repeatedly robbed him of his glory. And yet while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God could have stuck us down in our sinful rebellion—and he’d have been entirely just in doing so. But instead he chose to send his Son to have his cloak stolen, to have his body beaten, and ultimately to be nailed to a cross so that we could be reconciled to the very same God against whom we spent our lives in rebellion. God loves his enemies. He loves them—us—so much that he spared not his own Son.
And now in Jesus we’re called to carry the Good News to everyone around us. We’re called to preach the message of reconciliation made possible by Jesus. It’s one thing to tell people that message, but it’s another thing to actually live that message and it’s still another thing altogether to live that message out for our enemies. The eternal soul of the one who strikes us is more important than whether or not we go home with one bruised cheek instead of two. The eternal soul of the thief is more important than whether we go home with our cloak or not. The soul of the beggar is of more value than our material possessions that we might leave with him as a passed-on token of the love that Jesus has shown us.
Ultimately it comes down to what Jesus says in verse 31:
As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
This saying wasn’t new to Jesus. Jews had been saying similar things for a long time and so had the Greeks and Romans. What’s different is how Jesus applies it. The idea of doing unto others what you would have them do to you had always been a way of saying that if you want others to treat you well, you should treat them well first. It’s the idea of reciprocity. In fact, in the ancient world it had a strong sense of obligation. That was a big part of their culture. If you did something for someone, they were then obligated to you. But Jesus now throws this into the middle of this teaching about loving your enemies and doing good to people who hate you. He turns the old saying upside-down. Jesus’ people don’t do good in order to obligate others to do good in return. No. Jesus’ people do good—they love, they bless, and they pray—because it’s an expression of God’s love, which flows through us unconditionally and expecting nothing in return. Jesus now explains this in verses 32-36:
“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. But 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.”
I don’t think it’s hard to grasp what Jesus is getting at, but in that day it was particularly counter-cultural. As I said, the ideas of reciprocity and obligation were powerful parts of Middle Eastern culture. Gifts were rarely given without the expectation of getting something in return. To do a good deed was to put someone else in your debt—they would “owe you one” and have to pay up at some point in the future. Add to that the fact that Greco-Roman society was built on a system of patronage. Everyone, from the lowest slave or freeman to the great patricians and nobles, had a patron—a “boss” to whom they owed their allegiance. Their patron looked out for them, maybe even employing them, and in return they were expected to serve (even to fight for) their patron. The patrons themselves had patrons all the way up to the emperor. Think of the patronal system of the Mafia—that’s a modern vestige of ancient Mediterranean society. It was a suffocating web of obligations established to maintain the order of society with powerful people above the weak and Caesar at the top above everyone. In that system you loved those who loved you. You did good because someone else had done you good or you did good to obligate someone to do you good in future. Jesus now turns the whole system upside-down. “Love, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return,” he says. When you do these things expecting nothing in return the Father will recognise you as one of the his own—as one of his sons. Why? Because children exhibit the character of their parents. If the Father is characterised by goodness, by love, and by mercy, his children will be recognised by their goodness, their love and their mercy. Will this get you into trouble? Yes. It tears apart the web of obligations and of patrons that held together Caesar’s empire, but Jesus reminds us that this is his kingdom, not Caesar’s and that it’s the Father to whom we should be looking for our care, not Caesar.
In verses 37 and 38 Jesus comes full-circle, but now restates his command to love our enemies, this time in the negative:
“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.”
Not to judge is to love. To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of the scribes and Pharisees we’ve seen in the story and their reaction to the outsiders to whom Jesus ministered. Think back to when Jesus met Levi, the tax collector. Luke tells us that Levi invited Jesus to a banquet to meet all of his friends. Luke says that there were “tax collectors and others” at the party. But when the Pharisees confronted Jesus about it, they accused him of eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Those Pharisees epitomise Israel’s failure. Levi and his friend were outsiders—people outside God’s salvation. The Pharisees—and a lot of other people in Israel—were perfectly happy with those tax collectors and sinners on the outside. They wanted a clean line of demarcation between Israel and the gentiles so that when the Messiah finally came, he’d know who to high-five for keeping the law and who to smite for not keeping it—and they’d be giddy with joy to see God smite all those sinners on the outside.
But that’s not what Jesus is about. Jesus came knowing full well that when the Lord does finally come in judgement, all the sinners and outsiders will be smitten and condemned to eternal punishment. But his job as the Messiah was to call those sinners to repentance—to invite the outsiders to come into the kingdom so that when judgement comes, they’ll be recipients of the Lord’s mercy, not his wrath. Jesus knew that the world already stood under the judgement of a holy and just God who punishes sin. The world doesn’t need any more judgement, let alone the imperfect judgement of sinful human beings. What the world needs is love, mercy, and grace. What it needs is forgiveness and healing and escape from the coming condemnation. As Jesus tells us in St. John’s gospel: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
And so Jesus tells us here: Forgive instead of judging. The sense of forgive is to “release”. Jesus goes back to the whole notion of patronage and obligation. “Forget Caesar’s kingdom and Caesar’s way of doing things. Stop looking to Caesar and his system for the things you need. He’s a pretender and his kingdom is passing away. Instead, do good expecting nothing in return. Love and forgive your enemies as God has loved and forgiven you. And if you trust him, if you submit to his rule and to his kingdom and to his ways, he will provide for you far more abundantly than Caesar ever could. Remember that your heavenly Father is Lord of Creation and that his kingdom is eternal.”
Brothers and sisters, does what Jesus describes here characterise our lives? Imagine what the church, let alone the world, would look like if we truly loved our enemies, blessed those who curse us, and prayed for those who abuse us. We all, myself included, struggle to do these things. Sometimes we don’t even bother struggling—we just easily go about our lives doing things the worldly way: hating our enemies, cursing those who curse us, and abusing our abusers. But as a result our ministry is crippled and our witness ineffective. Granted these are hard things to do. It’s not easy to love our enemies when our natural response is to judge them and to hate them. And yet think again of Jesus coming down the mountain like a new Moses creating a new Israel. When Moses came down the mountain with the law, the people all cried out, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do!” Jesus’ expectation is that as his new Israel we will do all the things that he has spoken.
Yes, Israel said she’d do what the Lord had spoken and then she failed. But there’s a difference between the old Israel and the new Israel. Brothers and sisters, Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit. The old law was written on tablets of stone. It was external. Through the Spirit, Jesus has written his new law on our hearts. He came and fulfilled the law that Israel had failed to keep. He came and fulfilled the mission that Israel had dropped. In him all the promises and blessings given to Abraham and through Moses have been fulfilled. He is the old Israel made new and he has now called us to himself, grafted us into his vine, made us his body and given us his Spirit so that we carry on the mission he began. And so when the task looks hard, when you’re tempted to hate instead of love, when you’re tempted to curse instead of bless, remember that your Baptism has joined you to Jesus and filled you with his Spirit, remember that each Sunday you come to his Table and he gives you his very self, filling you with his grace. Consider all that he has done for you. You and I were once rebels, once God-haters, robbing him of his glory, and yet he loved us enough to send his Son to take our flesh upon himself and to die for our sake. Meditate on the deep, deep love of God in Christ and remember that you are filled with his Spirit, then you will love your enemies as God has loved you and as we show our enemies the love of God we will manifest his kingdom.
Let us pray: Father, in today’s collect we asked you to grant that all those admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion reject those things contrary to their profession and, instead, follow all such things as are agreeable to the same. We ask that again. You have given us your Holy Spirit. Now give us, we pray, a sense of the deep, deep love you have shown to us in giving your Son for our sake, that we might be moved to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who abuse us. Give us grace to live our lives in such a way that the world around us will see your love active in and pouring forth from us. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.