The word used here for love, agape in Greek, does NOT mean romantic love, liking, or even friendship. What it does mean is whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. Expecting nothing in return.
February 20, 2022
Sunday between February 18 and February 24 inclusive
Not used if assigned date follows Ash Wednesday.
May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 6:27-38, The Message or Luke 6:27-38, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Aside: The photo reminded me of a favourite pet cat from long ago. Sentimentality aside, there is a way in which this "cute" picture emphasizes the ease, the common sense, and the universality of Jesus' radical message, "Love your enemies." The lion shall lie down with the lamb - and the cat with the mouse.
This passage begins with a reminder from Jesus that the Good News of his teachings are fulfilled in our hearing of them - and as he also reminds us at the end of this Chapter - in our acting on what we have heard.
And this passage is tough to preach because there are at least 3 or 4 needful sermons to be heard. I'm not sure what to suggest. Throw the lectionary out and take 3 or 4 Sundays to preach on this text? Pick one topic today and hope not too many people will say on their way out the door, "I really needed to hear what you had to say about ... (the verses you decided not to preach on)?"
Verses 27-28. Unfortunately, there are 6 words in the Bible that are translated into the one English word, "love." (See How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways for my brief description of these important words.)
The word used here for love, agape in Greek, does NOT mean romantic love, liking, or even friendship. Nor does it primarily refer to how I feel. In the Bible love is primarily understood as a relationship. And relationships are all about behaviours, not feelings.
Nor is love an end in itself. The behaviours of love are always so that. We love so that the Kin_dom of God might be on earth as it is in heaven.
So when Jesus says, "Love your enemies," he is saying: Behave toward your enemies in the ways that will create justice, kindness, mercy, harmony, and well-being for all of creation.
And do this in a way that is whole-hearted, unreserved, and unconditional.
Nothing is held back. There is no hesitation. No calculation of costs and benefits. No expectation of receiving anything in return. No pay offs.
There is only total desiring of the well-being of the other for the good of the world.
Oddly, this might also mean you might not like the other. Might oppose some of their behaviours. Might speak and act against some of what they stand for.
But if you agape your enemies, the ways you express your dislike and opposition will always also express your total desiring of their well-being so that the whole world might be well. Your total desire is to be in the relationship with them that God desires for you both. (Spoiler Alert: "God's desire" for your relationship might be different than what you desire.)
Jesus in fact gives 3 specific suggestions for how to agape our enemies:
- Do good.
Means: do well, rightly, becomingly, truly, justly, honourably.
Means: speak well of, praise, confer a favour on.
- Pray for.
Means: lift up to God on their behalf.
It is absolutely crucial to note that these three things are all focused on restoring right relationships. Unlike our modern concerns with individual rights and personal well-being, Jesus is totally focused on collective well-being. Notice that he uses the plural, "enemies", not the singular "enemy". This is not because you are such an unlikable bad person with many enemies. This is because Jesus is focused on creating a community - no, not a community - a world of friends. A world where everyone and everything is in the relationships of just, mutual well-being which God desires. And so, paradoxically, loving your enemies can mean standing in complete opposition to their behaviours. And doing that in a way that your own behaviours and attitudes are agape. This is a radical call. As others have said, "There is no way to justice. Justice is the way." It could get you killed.
Verse 29. Sadly, misunderstanding of this verse has brought untold misery for wives and children who have suffered abuse. Jesus is NOT telling us to be doormats; to passively accept abuse. In fact, he is teaching us one way to non-violently resist abuse. (See my note, Turn The Other Cheek: Non-violent Resistance to Evil, for a more detailed explanation.)
Those listening to Jesus would know instantly who the "anyone" is in this verse: "If anyone ..."
At the time of Jesus, those who struck you on your cheek or took away your coat were masters or soldiers.
Striking the cheek was the way a master disciplined a slave or servant; the way he asserted his authority; the way he put you back in line.
And at the time of Jesus, there was a proper way to do this. You would stand facing your master, and he would strike your right cheek with the back of his right hand.
Because this was the proper way to strike the cheek, doing it any other way would be a loss of face.
So imagine what happens if, after having been struck on the right cheek, you stand there and silently turn your head and seemingly offer your left cheek?
If you act this out, you'll see that it is not possible to strike the left cheek with the back of the right hand.
Standing there offering your left cheek actually becomes an act of resistance. Your master is unable to discipline you in the accepted fashion - his powerlessness is exposed for all to see - and with that he is shamed and dishonoured. And. More importantly. You have exposed the reality that master and slave are not in the right relationship reflective of the Good News.
Similarly, not just anyone would take away your coat. Typically, this would be a soldier, and the taking of the coat would be extortion.
Since the "coat" refers to the outer garment worn at the time of Jesus, giving away your "shirt," your inner garment, would leave you naked.
You might be embarrassed. But again, what is really being exposed here is the injustice.
Giving your shirt as well as your coat, exposes the injustice of having your coat taken in the first place.
These two examples demonstrate how to agape your enemies. They are powerful non-violent ways to expose injustice.
Verses 32-36. These verses further expand the teaching to love our enemies. The key phrase here is:
Expecting nothing in return.
This is a call to extend the generous give-and-take that is usually reserved for immediate family and close friends to everyone. Imagine a world where the economy changed from "I give you this only if you give me that," to "I share this with you knowing that you, or someone else, will generously share with me whatever I need."
These verses are again very challenging for Theophilus. But they spell out what is expected of those who belong to the Jesus community.
Verses 37-38. "Do not judge" is also a much misunderstood teaching.
Jesus is NOT saying anything goes. Actually some things are better than others. Some ways of behaving are better than others. Judging can be perilous at times and needs to be done with humility. But make no mistake, we are called to judge and to choose.
This is a teaching against the kind of stereotyping that is typically part of the gossipy way we pigeon-hole and stigmatize people-who-are-different-than-us. This kind of judging labels others; removes their humanity; and relieves us of the moral obligation to treat them as we would any friend or family member.
The overall message of this passage is to break down all the stereotypes and barriers we erect to distance ourselves from others: enemy, stranger; sinner; etc.
Instead, Jesus calls us to agape. To totally desire the well-being of all others for their own good. Expecting nothing in return. So that we might become the world that God desires.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 249-251; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Luke 6:27-38 (NRSV)
27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do 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. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If 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. 35 But 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. 36 Be 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; 38 give, 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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 6:27-38 (The Message)
27 "To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. 28 When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. 29 If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 30 If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
31 "Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! 32 If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. 33 If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. 34 If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
35 "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. 36 Our Father is kind; you be kind.
37 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. 38 Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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