Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, August 24, 2019
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Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:27-42

It is an unavoidable fact of life that we are going to have to deal with enemies. Now maybe they won’t call themselves our enemies, but certainly we’ll have to deal with people who behave like they are our enemies. How do we respond to them?

The norm down through history has been retaliation. If you go back and read the ancient law codes, mostly they focused on limiting retaliation: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, the retaliation is not to exceed the original injury. By the way, that was seldom enforced literally. We might think that was rather barbaric, but they usually determined a monetary value that was “equivalent” to the injury.

But Jesus taught a different ethic of dealing with enemies. Jesus taught us to undermine the hostility, to put an end to it. I’m reminded of a quote I’ve seen several times over the years, “The surest way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.” I’ve seen that attributed to Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” but it appears that he did not actually say that. I don’t know where it actually came from, but it seems appropriate to Jesus’ teachings here.

We undermine the hostility by loving our enemies. Now that’s one of those things Jesus taught that we probably all agree is “a good idea in principle,” but we’re not very eager to do it ourselves.

We might object: “It’s impossible. I can’t love my enemy. I hate him or her! How in the world am I supposed to love that person?!” But the misunderstanding is that we think of love in terms of an emotion; something we feel. And honestly, it’s impossible, or at least very difficult, to feel love for an enemy.

But the love in question here is what was described in the New Testament with the Greek word AGAPE. AGAPE is perhaps best defined as “unconquerable benevolence.” It’s the resolve to do good for others no matter what. AGAPE love is an action, not an emotion. It’s a matter of the will, not the feelings. It is a choice, not something we either have or don’t have like feelings of affection. Love your enemies. Do good for them. Pray for them. Those are actions, not feelings.

“Do not retaliate. If you are slapped on one cheek (the right cheek specifically, which was more of an insult in ancient Near Eastern culture than the left cheek), then turn the other cheek. If they demand your cloak,” that is the outer garment, “then offer

your tunic,” the inner garment. By the way, most people only owned one set of clothing, so if you gave away your cloak and your tunic, then you were naked. Perhaps Jesus suggested this as a way of “disarming” your enemy. They demand your cloak as restitution of some kind and you offer your tunic, too. Perhaps the idea is that their wrath would be turned aside at the thought of leaving you naked. I’m not sure. “Give without seeking to recover. Do for others as you would like them to do for you.”

It has often been pointed out that others have taught the same basic idea as Jesus, but with one key difference: They have taught it in negative terms. “What you would not want done to you, do not do that to others.” Jesus was apparently the first to teach it in positive terms. And the positive expression is more difficult. “Oh, there’s my enemy over there, broken down on the side of the road. Well, that’s no concern of mine.” If you look at it in negative terms, that’s fine. But if you take Jesus’ words to heart, then you have an obligation to help even your enemy when they’re in trouble, because that’s what you would want done for you if you were in that position.

“Do good to those who cannot or will not repay your kindness.” There is no reward for kindness to those who will simply return it in kind. That’s not to say it’s wrong. It’s not wrong to invite your neighbor over for supper knowing full well that they’ll invite you back at some point. But there is no sacrifice in it. And as such, we should not expect to be rewarded by God for it. Our reward is that they will repay our kindness. But when we are kind to those who cannot or will not repay it, the poor, the stranger, the enemy; then God will reward us for our kindness.

“Lend money even if they won’t repay it.” According to the Old Testament Law, all debts were to be forgiven every seven years, the Sabbath Year. Unfortunately, because people are people, many would refuse to lend when it got close to the Sabbath Year, for fear of not being repaid. And this would hurt the poor most. Often, poor farmers would have to borrow the money to buy seed to plant, and if no one would lend freely, they were forced to borrow from those who charged high interest rates.

When we are kind to those who cannot or will not repay our kindness, then we behave like children of God. There was a strong expectation in Hebrew culture that children were to imitate their parents; especially that sons were to imitate the character of their fathers. Our heavenly Father is kind and generous to all, even to those who hate him in return.

We should not miss that there is a connection made in these verses between greed and materialism on one hand and violence and retribution on the other. They are not unrelated. Greed fuels violence. And I think we see that in many ways in our world. In our society, our heroes are seldom poor and they are seldom non-violent. We idolize the wrong values.

Jesus goes on, “Do not judge others or you will be judged.” I think this is one of the most misused Bible verses. Sometimes it’s used to justify or rationalize one’s behavior. “Hey, that’s wrong!” “Judge not lest ye be judged.” That’s not the point. The Bible never tells us that we should not make judgments about whether actions are right or wrong. The problem is that we make judgments about people. And often, our judgment is that “So-and-so is worthless.” We should never call anyone worthless for whom Christ died.

The point is that we should be forgiving and generous toward others if we hope that God will be forgiving and generous toward us.

“Be careful that you are not the blind leading the blind.” The point of that is that we can’t take others farther than we are willing to go ourselves. We can’t hope to lead others to be like Christ if we are not willing to be Christ-like.

So we need to be more concerned about the log in our own eye than the speck in our neighbor’s eye. Our harshest critiques should always be directed at ourselves. It’s easy to see the faults and failures of others. It’s hard to see them in ourselves. But they are there.

We never grow as disciples when we spend our time comparing ourselves to others. We can always find someone else and say smugly, “Well, I’m nothing like them.” We only grow when we compare ourselves to Christ.

We may worry at times that someone will call us a hypocrite. But the person who strives to do the right things and freely admits that they fall short is never a hypocrite. The hypocrite is the one who is unwilling to admit their own failures.

It is only when we are willing to be led by Christ and to receive correction from Christ that we can ever hope to lead others to be like him.

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