Allow me to let the cat out of the bag: when it comes to the middle of Luke 6, no one is willing to listen to Jesus. In the course of 11 verses, he makes some of the most outrageous claims of his entire ministry. This is where many people tune out, turn off, and start to question Jesus’ sanity. What did Jesus say? Does he call himself the Son of God or even God incarnate? Does Jesus encourage people to walk on water or leap tall buildings in a single bound? No, he does none of those things. Instead, Jesus tells people to do something much harder than walking on water or surviving death on a cross. Jesus tells us: love your enemy. You can hear the stragglers murmuring under their breath, “Who does this guy think he is?”
Of all the crazy commands, out of this world requests, and impossible ideas; Jesus not only suggests but implies to the level of a new commandment that we love our enemies. One might ask, “Is he trying to lose followers?” It is questions like this, passages like ours that reaffirm one important supposition: the gospel is relevant. Despite centuries of human progress and technological advancement, the gospel message resonates because of our shared humanity. Emotions, feelings, and ideas define our interactions with each other and the world around us. Those feelings of wonder, when we look at the night sky and question our place in the universe, have not changed for millennia. Luke 6 addresses the heart of the gospel, the core of Jesus’ message, and shows that its meaning is not bound by time and space. This is a miracle we easily overlook or even ignore. This is what it means when I say, “God is still speaking.” God hasn’t stopped talking to us. The question is this: do we want to listen? Jesus speaks not about what it means to be an American, a Methodist, how you should vote, or what constitutes a church. He begins and ends in the same place. If you love your enemy and bless those who curse you, all of those other questions will work themselves out and maybe not in the way you expected.
We’re picking up from where we left off, in the place that it was most comfortable for us to stop listening. That spot where Jesus’ requests became too much to handle. And yet, before we look at Jesus’ most difficult and controversial teaching, perhaps the one thing in the entire New Testament that most scholars agree Jesus definitely said, let’s think about the kind of things we wish Jesus said. What do we wish he’d told the disciples and then had passed down to us through two thousand years of written and oral tradition?
Perhaps you wish Jesus had said to the disciples, “Behold, when someone cuts thou off on the road, it is right and just to give them a sign of your displease using only a single digit of your offended hand.” Or, “When someone disagrees with you politically, thou may write nasty things about their life, family, house, and beliefs on the social media platform of choice.” Maybe you wish Jesus said, “Behold, anyone who is not in my immediate group is cast out, banished, and sent to an undisclosed fiery location. Outsiders are not welcome.”
As we know, Jesus said nothing of the kind. Those types of ideas, while easy to perform, are difficult to undo. They lead nowhere and express nothing more than moments of frustration and smug superiority. When Jesus says something, this time for real, you’ll notice a difference. They are rarely easy to undertake. The outcome of a Jesus idea is always better than the present which gave rise to the idea. Lastly, there is no expiration date. What Jesus says is true, despite time, culture, language and all the other things which generally divide the human community.
The first concept Jesus shares with his gathered disciples is to love your enemy. In fact, this whole discussion is a variation on that underlying theme. It’s the hardest thing Jesus asks his followers to do. It may be the most challenging task posed in the entirety of the Bible. Jesus invites us to love those who do not like us; in fact, he says to love those who are opposed to the very idea of “us.” “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you,” he adds. Who does Jesus think we are, Oprah, Gandhi?
I may love my enemy from a distance because I never encounter them daily. That works if they live in North Korea and I live on Ocracoke. I am able to mouth words of love. In the end, I’m not required to do anything about the need to love my enemy. I can say “love,” sound high-minded, and ultimately leave my enemy unloved (along with their nuclear weapons). This is why Jesus takes it a step farther. Loving our enemies isn’t solely something we think about or deem a good and noble idea. Instead, it is the action we take. Loving our enemies is something we do.
Jesus is encouraging us to think about the enemies closer to home. What’s happening on our doorstep? Where are those strained relationships, weird glances, evil eyes and people who push us beyond the limits of Christian charity? They’re not all on the evening news. Some may be in the room or in the house around the corner. If we want to bring the love of Christ into the world, we start locally. Local love moves us closer to Jesus’ vision for the world. So how do we do this? Jesus told us:
“Do good to those who hate you,” says Jesus. Not be good said Jesus but “do” good. “Doing” goodness and “being” goodness are two different things. Doing goodness challenges evil, wrongs, injustice, and cynicism. Overwhelm those who hate you with kindness. Then he doubles back to where we were last week. He talks about blessings. I’m someone curses you or finds an opportunity to give you an inappropriate gesture: bless them. Give them an actual word of blessing, which is a gift from God that cannot be returned. Blessings are ours to pass on. A blessing from God is a powerful way to counteract a conscience dwelling on self-destruction and anger. Lastly, Jesus says, “pray for those who abuse you.” Usually, that’s the one we go to first because praying for our enemies seems much more comfortable than meeting their hostility with head on goodness. Remember, prayer is not an easy way out. Prayer is not a mechanical response to a world going to hell in a handbasket. Prayer is dialogue, a conversation with God. It’s not a wish list or to be a reflection of our own narcissistic desires. The easiest thing to do is to pray for ourselves and the people we love. That comes natural and it should. What’s hard to for us is to slip something or someone into our prayers that don’t want to be there or could possibly care less that we’re praying for them. We know we’re going against our prayer grain. What do we do? We pray those people who make our life hard and hate us because that’s what defines Christian disciples over and against some meditation group. Christians take emotional, spiritual, and physical steps to counteract the malice seeking to determine the human condition.
Jesus takes the idea one step further. He wants his disciples to know: it’s easy to love people who look, talk, speak, eat, live, and resemble you. The challenge comes in loving people who are not like you, different, or even hate you. We know this! However, choosing to live outside the cookie cutter norms defining our relationships is what makes Christianity unique. Perhaps my favorite part of this text is this, “For even sinners love those who love them.” The world can talk a good game about love, but that’s all it is, a game. Jesus is saying, “There will come a time when people say nice things to your face in public and then go talk behind your back or post mean things about you on Instagram.” Yes, Jesus knew, it’s easy to pretend to be nice and have the right intentions. It’s harder to love consistently. Why is love so hard? Love means taking a risk; a risk for ourselves and our relationship with Christ. To risk loving means becoming a disciple. This is a process. We are always learning to live, love, and risk. They are the mutually exclusive truths which frame our calling.
The world will know we are Christians by our love. The Good News is this: Jesus means it. Do we?
Richard Lowell Bryant