Feb. 20, 2022 Seventh Sunday After Epiphany The text is Luke 6:27-38.
[Jesus said:] 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
This morning we find ourselves back in the “level” place where Jesus is delivering his Sermon on the Plain. You may recall that last Sunday, Luke’s gospel narrated Jesus’ teaching about the beatitudes. Last week we read that Jesus proclaimed both “blessed are you” and “woe to you”; this morning as he continues his preaching, we learn how God’s people are expected to act and to live, from another perspective. And this teaching is meant to serve as a reflection of the way God treats humanity, and that we are called to emulate this in our interactions with others. And, again we find that this way of thinking and behaving is radically different from the accepted cultural norm. God’s way of blessing humankind isn’t normally mirrored by the way we humans engage with one another.
Jesus packs quite a lot into his list of ways that we are expected to behave. We are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us. We are told to turn the other cheek, and give the shirt off our back to the one who steals our coat. And, of course there is the Golden Rule, you know, “do unto others”. But, what about the part where Jesus tells us to love our enemies; do good; and lend, expecting nothing in return? Well, this part of the Sermon on the Plain might have been the most difficult for those who were there in person, for this concept was completely opposite to the way the world worked in Roman/Hellenistic philosophy. A great number of the social practices of the Romans were adopted directly from Greek culture. The Romans, in spite of their own militaristic customs, valued all things Hellenistic, and they emulated Greek cultural norms and adopted them into their own society.
And, one of these was the practice of quid pro quo, the understanding that if you were to do something for someone, you did so with the expectation that you would receive the same in return. This concept was central to the way society functioned, especially among those Jesus calls “sinners” this morning on the plain. He says, “even sinners love those who love them”. Now, before we get overly judgmental toward these ancient Greeks and Romans, perhaps we ought to review some of the terms that find their way into our modern-day culture. “One hand washes the other”, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”, “tit for tat”. It seems we haven’t abandoned the old Greco-Roman concept of “I’ll do for you, but I expect something in return”. We humans never really seem to change all that much, do we? What was socially acceptable then, remains so today.
Yet, the entirety of Jesus’ sermon is based on vacating human norms, beginning with the “blessed are you”, the “woe to you”, and now, do for others with no expectation of reciprocation. Well, this isn’t the way humans have always been, is it? No, but it is the way God has acted toward humans. God’s grace is unmerited, we cannot do anything to earn it, nor is it possible to gain this grace through our own efforts. Consider this, even of we were to try to earn God’s grace, what could we offer God in return, where is the quid pro quo? Here’s a newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need anything from us. What God desires is simply what Jesus tells us on the plain; treat our fellow humans with love, justice, and mercy, and expect nothing in return. Act toward one another in the same way God acts toward us.
Now that we know this, we have to ask ourselves if we are able to follow these commands. Is it easy, difficult, really difficult, unimaginably difficult? No, as is the case for just about everything Jesus asks us to do, it’s impossible for us to undo the part of our human nature that clings to “I’ll do for you if you do for me”. And, also like everything Jesus commands of us, it’s the trying that counts. And we will fail, we will revert to our broken sinful nature and the need for quid pro quo will often outweigh our desire to want to do good, lend without expecting repayment, and here’s the really tough one; love our enemies. It’s certainly easier for us to do good for those we love, not so easy to do the same for those who might just despise us. Turn the other cheek, indeed!
But, here’s where the part about trying comes into play. There is a fundamental concept in Lutheran theology, that of Law and Gospel. We know that we aren’t able to follow all of God’s commands all the time, and we also know that for the sake of Christ Jesus, God forgives us when we fall short. God’s commands, the Law points out our sin and condemns us because of it; the Gospel of Christ frees us from this condemnation. And it is this freedom that enables us to try to extend the love of God to others, yes, even the ones who might hate us. God’s love for us is so strong that God is willing to shower us with unmerited grace, mercy, and love. And, in what might be called a case of quid pro quo, we are called to repay this by extending grace, mercy, and love; not just to those who we feel deserve it, but to those we feel aren’t entitled to it.
As I said, it’s difficult, but we do have to try. It makes it easier if we remind ourselves that it is, in fact not us but Jesus acting through us. Showing love for our enemies is really serving as a conduit for Christ’s own love toward them.
Let’s take another look at the several commands Jesus gives to us there on the plain, “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.” As we agreed earlier, it’s just not possible for us, in our sinfulness to ensure that we follow all of God’s commands, these few, and all that are set forth in the Law. We’ve addressed the “love your enemies” part, but what of the others? All these may be obeyed by simply applying this admonition to them. We “do good to those who hate us” by showing them love; in the same way we “bless those who curse us”. The “turning of the other cheek” may be done as an expression of love for the one who strikes us. Again, this isn’t easy for us. But Jesus admonishes us to try.
And this brings us to the one verse that is most familiar, “do to others as you would have them do to you.” This “Golden Rule” of behavior is actually the opposite of the quid pro quo we initially spoke about. Rather than doing good for someone expecting them to do good to you in return, we are called to act toward others in the way we would like to be treated, all the while knowing that we’re doing so because it is how we are commanded to. If we treat people as Jesus tells us we should, we’re actually portraying for them the love that he has for them, and that he has for us.
Pastor Fred Marcoux was my very first mentor in the church and it’s impossible to count the number of times his words of wisdom clarified for me how I might better live into my faith as a beloved, forgiven child of God. Often, my understanding would be brought to light after a long, deep conversation, but the most poignant and valuable piece of advice he ever gave me consisted of just two words; “love people!” It’s not always easy, he said, but you have to try. Pastor Fred certainly understood what Jesus taught that day on the plain; and it’s my hope and prayer that we may all come to do so as well.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, we acknowledge that our sinfulness keeps us from loving others as you command and Jesus teaches. In spite of the difficulty, we pray that you strengthen us in our efforts and inspire us to try. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who loves us, asking nothing in return; only that we love people. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.