Show Mercy - Luke 6:27-38
It is a word that has become lost in the morass of cliché and overuse.
It’s hard to talk in a meaningful way about it because the word has been emptied of so much of its meaning. We love those shoes, or we simply love eating blueberries in summer, we love our spouse and we love our friends.
It’s a catch all word that refers to a whole lot of things at once – our preferences, our tastes, physical objects that bring us pleasure, alongside the deepest and most intimate relationships we can ever have.
Often when I find the word on my lips, I feel that it is inadequate. For a preacher, this is a problem.
Jesus, the best preacher that ever walked the earth knows this and when he talks about love he speaks about love in the form of a verb. It is something we do, it is a way of life, a way of being.
Jesus in today’s passage gives us concrete examples of what love looks like in its purest form. He gives us a clear guide on how to love the way God loves the world.
Last week we looked at the beatitudes where Jesus tips the whole world upside down and gives us a new vision of reality. He talks about the kingdom of God – the rule and reign of God where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.
The question is – so what does this look like?
Here in Luke’s Gospel in the “sermon on the plain” and in Matthew’s Gospel in the “sermon on the mount” Jesus paints a picture of what it looks like to live in God’s kingdom way.
In today’s reading Jesus talks about love.
And this is perhaps one of the most confronting and difficult teachings of Jesus.
He says this:
“Love your enemies.”
You can imagine the scene – Jesus is preaching, and the disciples are nodding in agreeance, saying “it’s good Jesus we love it, tell us more about the kingdom.” And then midway through the sermon he drops the bomb “Love your enemies.”
Imagine the awkward silence.
The Jews Jesus was talking to had plenty of enemies. They were living under enemy occupation by the Romans. They had historical biffo with the Samaritans too, and disagreements in their own religious circles about how to live faithfully to God.
Some like the Essenes withdrew to live in alternative community avoiding their enemies if possible, some like the Pharisees insisted upon purity and following God’s law to a tee, excluding and judging their enemies and some like the Zealots took up the sword against their Roman oppressors and incited violent mobs and back-ally stabbings.
So, it’s fair to say when Jesus said “Love your enemies” everyone would have felt a little awkward. So should we.
Here’s a joke for you:
A priest is giving a sermon based on Jesus’s command to love your enemies.
“Now,” he says, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives,” “So raise your hands,” he says, “if you have many enemies.” And quite a few people raise their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.” And about half as many people raise their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” And even fewer people raised their hands. “See,” says the priest, “most of us feel like we have enemies.”
“Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.” And the priest looks around, and looks around, and finally, way in the back, a very, very old man raises his hand. He stands up and says, “I have no enemies whatsoever!” Delighted, the priest invites the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the priest says. “How old are you?
“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”
The priest says, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”
The man replied: “All the buggers have died!”
The reality is that it is very difficult to get through life without enemies, in fact, I would say it’s impossible.
But who are our enemies?
It’s worth thinking about it for a moment.
I’d like to suggest that there are serval different kinds of enemies each of us face in our day to day life.
So, here is my list of “species of enemies” we might encounter.
1) Persecutors – Jesus sets his comments on loving enemies within the context of persecution. In Luke 6:26 Jesus says: “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
In saying this Jesus acknowledges that as we become followers of Jesus, living in his Kingdom, our values and way of life will clash with the kingdoms of this world and because of this we will make enemies.
In a sense if we are not making enemies because of our faith we must ask the question – are we living as Jesus lived? Are we following him faithfully? When doing so we will stand out and like Jesus we will come into conflict with the powers of this world which oppress, which are self-seeking and sinful and broken.
So that is the first kind – persecutors. Many Christians throughout the world and across time have known this kind of enemy.
The supreme example of loving response is given by Jesus who suffers violence without retaliation and the most stunning examples of Christian witness have done the same for their faith.
2) Secondly, there are Perpetrators, people who have wronged us. Jesus speaks of those who “strike you on the cheek or take your coat.” These enemies are those who have hurt us maliciously, who have damaged us or taken something from us.
Many of us have those kinds of enemies. Many carry wounds from people who have committed acts of violence toward us, verbal or physical.
Or perhaps we ourselves have been the perpetrator, we have wronged somebody and made them an enemy.
To love these enemies is extremely complicated.
I do want to say that when Jesus calls us to love our enemies, I don’t think he is inviting us to voluntary victimhood to abuse or violence. Sadly, there are many homes in our country where people are not safe, or there are many people that have been abused physically, sexually, or verbally.
I don’t think that the invitation of Jesus to grin and bear it and be kind to those who commit such awful acts. There must be boundaries and healing for such instances.
A theologian, Miroslav Volf says this:
“Is wrath against the unjust appropriate? Yes! Must the perpetrator be restrained? By all means! Is punishment for the violation necessary? Probably. But all these indispensable actions against injustice must be situated in the framework of the will to embrace the unjust. For only in our mutual embrace within the embrace of the triune God can we find redemption and experience perfect justice.”
The question after the fact for people who find themselves in such situations is how to give the feelings of anger, hatred, and retaliation to God and experience the freedom of forgiving that person. Jesus calls us to forgive relentlessly, even those who have hurt us deeply.
The biblical promise is that God is just and will deal with injustice in his wisdom and love.
So, there are the perpetrators.
3) Thirdly, many of us have unintentional enemies. These are people whom we have no connection with or whom we don’t understand, or are afraid of, or threaten us because they are different from us.
This kind of enemy we might not be all out aggressive towards or we might not experience all out hatred from. These enemies are more subtle and pervasive. When Jesus says: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” I think of these folks.
Much of our political dialogue gets into this territory. We can so easily talk about people who think differently to us in terms that paint them as sub-human, as “other.”
In a lecture to students at Kings College in 1944, C.S. Lewis spoke about what he calls the “inner ring.” A ring of influence and belonging at the centre of any organisation or group.
He says this:
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside…
then he goes on to say…
“Of all passions the passion for the inner ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”
This is an insightful point by Lewis, and you will have experienced, I am sure, the power of the inner ring.
Groups define themselves by who is in and who is out. Whether it is along the lines of political views, gender and sexuality, religious, or racial lines.
Inner group think can cause us to erect formidable boundaries between one another and love only those who love us so to speak.
This kind of enemy is much more dangerous than we think.
So, we have unintentional enemies, those outside our “inner ring.”
4) And then we have Enemies at large. For some reason there are people that just don’t like us and have it in for us. Personality differences can contribute to this, jealousy, mistrust, or maybe you just remind them of someone that was mean to them when they were kids.
The point is this – enemies and potential enemies are aplenty.
Jesus asks us to love them?
He gives us a couple of reasons:
-Firstly, this is how God loves us. He says that “He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” and he implores us to “be merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
The good news of the Gospel is that God’s love reaches out to us where we are at. None of us are too far beyond God’s mercy and love. God reconciles us to himself through Jesus Christ. It’s as straightforward as that.
The church has gone horribly wrong every time it has attempted to put some kind of conditions on God’s grace, as if there were small print and conditional clauses. God’s mercy is free, unmerited, and for everyone who calls upon him in repentance, God offers forgiveness. In our Anglican liturgy at confession sometimes these words are said:
“God has promised forgiveness to all who truly repent, turn to Christ in faith and are themselves forgiving.”
-Secondly, Jesus asks us to love our enemies because in doing so we are a visible sign of the Gospel in the world. Even sinners love those who love them, even sinners lend to those who will pay them back.
But Jesus calls his followers to stand out – to be different. The world should be shocked by our radical love of our enemies. Graceful and loving Christians are one of the greatest witnesses to the love and grace of God in the world. And sadly, the opposite is also true.
So where can we start with being a people who love our enemies?
PRACTICAL TIPS ON LOVING ENEMIES – HOW CAN WE DO IT?
1) Err on the side of mercy – be quick to forgive.
2) Don’t seek revenge – break the cycle of retaliation.
3) Give the justice to God.
4) Pray for them.
The sad opposite of loving our enemies is to live in perpetual conflict with them. (Cartoon rest home heroes and villains)
This is one of the trickiest teachings of Jesus, but the promise isn’t that following Jesus will be easy but rather in doing so we will find healing for our brokenness and life in all its fullness. Forgiving as we are forgiven is a big part of that. The good news is that we are not alone – the Holy Spirit is our helper and guide, so let’s pray and ask for God’s help.
Miroslav Volf, “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.”