February 24, 2019
We are back with Jesus on the level place, right where we left off last week. He started out by describing the blessings we experience when our hearts are tuned to God and our attention is focused on God’s kingdom. But they didn’t sound like blessings to those people who gathered around Jesus to hear him teach.
It sounded like Jesus was getting it backward – you’re blessed when you’re poor or hungry and you’re doomed if you are rich or well fed. You’re blessed when you sorrow, and you’re doomed when you laugh. It just doesn’t make sense!
But that’s because we hear these blessings and woes through a worldly filter. If we listen carefully, we can hear a different message. It isn’t about food or money or social approval at all. It’s about what we give our attention to, what we place at the center of our lives.
We are blessed when we are God-centered, regardless of our earthly circumstances, and we suffer woe whenever we are self-centered. We find blessing in seeking God, being hungry for God, and loving the people God loves. When we focus on satisfying our own appetites, our attention turns away from God, and our self-centeredness becomes our spiritual doom.
And that brings us to today’s reading. We are still on that level plain with Jesus, but he is about to make a shift from describing God’s kingdom to teaching us how to live in it.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
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. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 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.
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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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.” (Luke 6:27-38)
“But I say to you that listen…” Jesus starts out. And we immediately know that all those blessings and woes he just talked about aren’t the point at all. If we thought they were backwards, we’re about to get a lesson in just how far God will go to upend our broken value systems and flip our priorities so they line up with God’s priorities.
When Jesus says, “to you that listen” we have to remember he isn’t expecting non-believers to get it. He isn’t talking to the rest of the world. He’s talking directly to his own followers, to people who have already committed to this new kingdom reality Jesus is introducing. He’s talking to you and me, if we really are the disciples we claim to be.
Jesus is THE Master Teacher, and his teaching technique follows established best practices for introducing abstract concepts. First, he lays out the ideas he wants us to learn, then he gives us some examples of how they play out in real life, and he wraps up the lesson with some negative examples to show us what the concepts are not.
What are these concepts? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” In other words, do the exact opposite of what the world expects when you’re dealing with people who treat you with contempt. Instead of avoiding them or submitting to their abuse, instead of responding to their hatred with your own – love them. The noun for this kind of love is ‘agape.’ It isn’t an emotion; it’s an action. It’s a way to behave that puts another’s welfare and interests above your own.
This is a pretty tall order. I can see those first disciples standing around Jesus with their mouths hanging open, completely dumbfounded. What on earth is he saying? How on earth are we supposed to do that?
So glad you asked, Jesus answers. Here’s how you do it. When people try to exert authority over you, stand up to them. When someone tries to expose you to ridicule and shame, take that ridicule and turn it back on them with honor.
You might be wondering, “Wait a minute – turning the other cheek and giving up both your coat and your tunic sounds like submitting to someone else’s abuse, not standing up to it.”
But here’s what we need to remember about first century culture. David Ewart writes,
“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. …
“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. [Striking you in 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 … offer your left cheek?…
“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 dishonored.
“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.”
This is how you love your enemies. You go above and beyond what is expected of you, and in the process, you expose just how wrong those expectations really are.
Keep in mind that Jesus is talking to people who are on the underside of society. We might find it hard to identify with the folks in that first band of followers. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus is asking us to do – to stop looking at others as if they were somehow less than us, and recognize the value and worth God places on each person we encounter.
Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God, where the rule is no longer “an eye for an eye.” The rule is now the rule of love and love alone. He goes on to give us some of those negative examples that explain this concept of loving our enemies. He says, “If you love the same people who love you, and if you do good to the same people you expect to treat you well, how is that different from what the world does? Even sinners do that much! Your calling is a higher one.”
This weekend, a Special General Conference of The United Methodist Church is meeting in St. Louis. The whole world is watching to see if our denomination can practice what it preaches. The whole world is waiting for us to either figure out a way to live and worship and follow Jesus together, or split into a fractured mess. The Book of Discipline, that operating manual we use for being the church, says, “The people of God, who are the church made visible in the world, must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced” [2016 Book of Discipline ¶130].
And if we leave it unconvinced, we have failed miserably at being Christ’s church. If we leave the world unconvinced of the truth of the gospel, we have failed at the very thing Jesus commanded us to do – go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.
Margaret Ann Crain writes, “So how do we convince the world of the reality of this gospel that Jesus preached? We must focus on compassion and love. Love begins with seeing and hearing those who are different from you. That means that those who voted on the other side should be heard and seen. In the hearing and seeing is the opportunity to love. … Can we hear and see those with whom we differ? In hearing and seeing them, can we join in their pain? Can we extend love (not control)? Perhaps most importantly, we extend compassionate love, not in order to get something back (like agreement on an issue or gaining power for a political point of view), but simply because that is the gospel message. “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies.”
And what if we heard these words of Jesus not so much as commands to love, but promises that the world doesn’t have to stay broken and divided? What if we took the Golden Rule to be less an assertion of our right to be treated the way we want to be treated, and more as a promise to treat others with care and compassion, whether they reciprocate or not?
According to David Lose, “Jesus isn’t offering a set of simple rules by which to get by or get ahead in this world but is inviting us into a whole other world. A world that is not about measuring and counting and weighing and competing and judging and paying back and hating and all the rest. But instead is about love. Love for those who have loved you. Love for those who haven’t. Love even for those who have hated you.”
Love even for those you have hated. Isn’t that what judging others leads us to do? Judging others puts us in the position of divider, quantifier, and ultimately, hater. What would happen to the United Methodist Church, to this United Methodist Church, if we let God do the judging, and we did our job of simply loving? Jesus gets the last word today:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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.” (Luke 6:37-38)
 Margaret Ann Crain, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-24-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes