“But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6: 27-28, English Standard Version here and following).
To better hear what Jesus is saying to us through these words today, we might do well to bear in mind two other biblical passages. Let’s first allow Paul to remind us: For if while we were enemies [of God] we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10). Jesus will speak to us today about loving our enemies. While that might sound distasteful, we do well to remember that God loved us while we were yet his enemies—and still does.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Again, Jesus calls us to love one another in the same unconditional way he loves us.
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus talks to us about enemies, our enemies. To avoid confusion, he makes clear that, when he says enemies, he means people seeking to hurt us. He makes plain that he means people who do things like hate us (v. 27), curse us, abuse us (v. 28), hit us (v. 29), and rob us (vs. 29-30).
In response to these people who obviously don’t like us, Jesus tells us we cannot respond in kind. He’s clear about that: no fighting fire with fire. Instead, his words free us again, today, to love, help, bless, and pray for those who seek to harm us (vs. 27-28) and to treat them as we would have them treat us (v. 31). He even tells us not to judge and condemn but to forgive and give (vs. 38-39). Again, he wants us responding to our enemies just as he responds to his enemies—including our very own lingering Olympian personalities.
One way we Christians fail to live as radiant witnesses to Jesus is by watering down the meaning of his words. We agree that Jesus calls us to love our enemies but then we justify killing them. Killing them, however, is no witness to their reconciliation with God nor ours with them in Christ. And killing is hardly how we would like them to treat us.
Another way we fail to live as radiant witnesses to Jesus is by misunderstanding his words. We take them to mean that we are to be nice to people bent on destruction. Instead of responding creatively to evil, we try to be nice by ignoring, denying, or justifying it. That only makes it worse. Jesus never spoke or acted that way.
People who treat us like enemies do not yet know or believe that they have been freed by Christ to be friends of God with us. Christ would have us relate to them in ways that witness to this great truth. Christ would have us live in ways that help these people discern and affirm that Christ is for their tufluvian personalities as he is for ours.
So we won’t fight their malicious Olympian personality with our own. Instead, with our tufluvian personality, we’ll commit ourselves to nurturing and protecting theirs. Sometimes that will involve sharing great food and laughter. Sometimes love will mean destroying their Olympian delusions of grandeur and physically restraining them from harming themselves or others. Sometimes love will mean steadfastly saying no to their falsehood and stubbornly refusing to cooperate in their violence toward others. But whether saying yes or no, or acting to encourage or discourage, our goal remains the same: to promote the vitality—body, soul, and spirit—of all for whom Christ died.
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