Many of the teachings of Jesus are difficult. Some are difficult to understand, such as some of the parables which require us to work out exactly what Jesus is saying. Others are difficult because of their subject matter. Whenever Jesus taught and spoke about love, I believe the audience was challenged. Jesus disrupts our normal assumptions about love and forgiveness. In our passage from Luke this disruption of our expectations is on full display.
Scripture: Luke 6: 27-38
Today’s passage from Luke is tough. Not tough love, it’s just tough. It’s one of those passages that is hard to swallow. We can say the words easily, but putting this passage into practice takes a lot of dedication. Commentator Vaughn Crowe-Tipton writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in.”
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, turn the other cheek, if someone takes your coat, give them your shirt also. Do as others as you would have them do to you. The last part sounds easy, unfortunately for us it comes with everything that is said before and afterwards.
This is a hard passage to live out. It raises lots of questions about our character and our willingness to truly follow the teachings of Jesus.
This is the type of passage that might make us ask why we follow Jesus and believe in God at all. It really is that tough. I think back to a passage in Job, “Do we love God and others only because it gets us good rewards?” (Job 1:9-10; 2: 4-6). This is what our passage from Luke is asking us. Do we only love God because we are promised an eternal reward? Are we willing to do all the other stuff?
It makes us realize that gospel is Good News, not easy news.
A reminder that there is a vast difference between what we want and what we need. None of you came to church today thinking, “I really need to be challenged by the minister! Maybe I will get asked to love me enemy!” Let’s be honest, this is one that we all struggle with, I know I do. But, it is what Jesus asks of us.
Scott Hoezee writes, “Why does Jesus recommend what he does? Wouldn’t this make us into chumps? Won’t we become the world’s doormat if we assume as passive a posture in the face of abuse as Jesus seems to suggest? Most churches I know are pretty careful about handing out money to folks who wander in off the streets looking for a handout … We mostly don’t live the way Jesus recommends. We’re wary of being take advantage of. On those few occasions over the years when I did slip someone a $10 or a $20, I was later told by my deacons what a mistake I’d made. “Keep handing out money like that, pastor, and they’ll be lined up out the door before you know it!”
Jesus’ words here are hard, radical, and demand of us and of the Church generally a lifestyle and set of practices that we find difficult to imitate. So why would Jesus say this? Why would Jesus set us up to be chumps and suckers, wide open to abuse? Does anyone really operate this way?
Listen carefully to some of the words we read this morning: “Then . . . you will be children of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
“Because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” That line reveals much as to what is behind Jesus’ rhetoric in Luke 6. It also tells us in an instant that if we think that following Jesus’ advice here is a quick path to becoming a sucker or a chump, we’d best wonder about that a little. Unless, that is, we want to so label God” (reference).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think God is a chump. Heaven forbid if God didn’t give everything for our sake.
One question we might in all fairness ask, does this passage perpetuate cycles of abuse? By turning the other cheek, doing good to those who hate you. Does this setup or establish patterns of abuse? Is this how we should interpret this passage? I don’t believe so, but the question needs to be asked. And I believe when we explore the question deeper we are led to some wonderful truths about God.
God isn’t interested in allowing cycles of abuse and violence to continue. God is interested in disrupting those patterns. The command to turn the other cheek, isn’t done in passivity or meekness. It is done to demonstrate that the cycles of violence don’t work. Turning the other cheek is a form of resistance, not submission.
Should a victim of domestic abuse stay with their abuser, turning the other cheek and attempting to forgive the abuser? No, they should flee and seek the help that they need.
When Jesus dies on the cross he provides a real life living out of turning the other cheek. However, it is not a cycle of abuse that is perpetuated, because the cross event is an act of grace. Mark Heim writes, “The murderers fail to succeed beyond the murder. God answers them in a way that renders their situation and future hopeless.” (Heim, Mark. Saved from Sacrifice: A theology of the cross. p. 145).
Later in his book he writes, “We are reconciled with God because God at the cost of suffering rescued us from bondage to a practice of violent sacrifice that otherwise would keep us estranged, making us enemies of the God who stands with our victims” (320).
Jesus says turn the other cheek because it demonstrates that cycles of violence don’t work in the long run. They are counter productive, Jesus puts this on display when he is crucified.
What if we took Jesus’ words to heart and actually lived them? What if we did not relegate Jesus’ sayings in this passage to just aspirations of what’s possible but believed them to be activities that might indeed make God’s Kingdom palpable?
Last week, this tweet popped up in my Twitter feed, it also popped up on Professor Karoline Lewis’ feed, which is where I’m quoting it from:
Jesus didn’t call it “social justice.” He simply called it Love. If we would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion and other differences that we’ve allowed to be barriers, “social justice” would be a given. Love makes justice happen. — Be A King (@BerniceKing) (reference).
In all that he has been preaching about, Jesus is asking us to love people. Jesus wants to see cycles of violence broken. The establishment of God’s kingdom is intended to bring justice and righteousness, it is also intended to bring love.
Jesus calls us to love all people in all times. Which is often an impossible task, but it is still one that we are called to. We are reminded that God loves us because of who God is. Jesus asks that our hearts might be softened, to allow God’s love in with the hope that we might share it. After all we are all God’s children. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.