Luke 6:27-38


Interpreting the Mission (2) – Stretching Love

Luke 7:27-36  -  Jesus Teaches Love of Enemies

27But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you; speak well of those who curse you, 28 and pray for those who speak spitefully about you.

There is particular wisdom in Jesus’ counsel to pray for abusers. The natural reaction to abuse is to retaliate. The effort to pray for abusers forces victims to face their spontaneous reaction, to become consciously aware of it, and to redirect the otherwise violent energy associated with it. It serves to enable them to move on from where they are in the direction of mature assertiveness.

29 To one who hits you on the cheek offer the other;

With this teaching Luke came to the core of the message of Jesus. Even Jesus’ more general advice to do to others as you would have them do to you (which sounds reasonable), when really taken seriously, would undermine so much of national and international dealings. National self-interest is taken for granted and presumed appropriate. Politics is often understood as the “art of the possible”. Jesus spoke of something quite different.

The examples quoted by Luke applied to interpersonal relationships within the restricted world of village and town life. To offer the other cheek is not to be understood as an act of weak submission. It is to stand tall and to challenge the action of the other - to unmask violence for what it is. It challenges perpetrators to come to recognise what they are doing. It is an act of resistance to violence, but plainly of non-violent resistance. Undoubtedly, it may not succeed in checking the violence of others; but the victims clearly preserve their position of inner dignity and freedom.

... and from one who takes your outer garment
do not withhold your under one.
30 Give to everyone who makes a request of you,
and do not demand back the things
that another has taken from you.
31 All of you treat others in the same way
as you would wish them to treat you.

Within the culture people were forced into begging by causes beyond their own control: sickness, disability, dispossession, absence of supportive family networks, etc.. The beggar needed help. In the original worldview of Israel, the goods of the world were intended to meet the needs of all. In encouraging practical care for and love of neighbour, Jesus was simply reiterating a core message of the Torah.

32If you love those who love you,
what sort of thanks do you expect?
Sinners love those who love them.
33 If you do good to those who do good to you,
what sort of thanks do you expect?
Sinners do the same.
34 Should you lend to those whom you expect will repay,
what sort of thanks do you expect?
Sinners lend to sinners when they expect to get as much back.
35 But continue loving and doing good and lending
without losing heart.
Your reward will be great,
and you will be true children of the Most High
who continues to be kind to the unthankful and sinful. 
36 Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.

Jesus’ effort to convince his hearers by bringing in the idea of reward seemed to engage with their still immature level of moral judgment. However, the reward Jesus was speaking of was not simply extrinsic reward for good conduct. It was the inner peace and freedom enjoyed by God and, by extension, also by those who allowed their own hearts to grow in mercy.

Jesus’ argument assumed that merely reciprocating favours did not of itself satisfy the deeper needs of the human heart. Much morality in the unredeemed world was worked out at that level, but experience showed the inadequacy of such behaviour to change the world according to the mind of God and to bring about the experience of blessedness so deeply longed for. The human person has been made in the image of God. Only as persons learn to act like God, specifically to love unconditionally like God, do they begin to find the harmony and peace for which they were made.

Is it Possible to Love your Enemies and Do Good to Those who Hate You?

Jesus made the point that that is precisely what God does. Essentially, God is love. The Hebrew Scriptures spoke constantly of God’s merciful and faithful love. God can love enemies because God is absolutely free. Jesus personified this freedom.

Jesus’ Response. Jesus’ teaching on the matter came from his own inner experience; it reflected his own insight, his own strength, his own peace. His concern was to share that inner experience with those he loved.

Jesus’ strength came from his clear sense of who he was. He knew himself to be loved by God. There were no unrecognised insecurities lurking in his psyche leading him to project his own unowned weaknesses onto others.

Believers’ Response. Perhaps one of the most beautiful experiences of “the Lord’s year of favour” is precisely the God-given freedom, the ability and the desire to love everyone, even enemies. In fact, true love is totally unconditional. Until it is unconditional, it is incomplete. 

Growth. When persons have matured enough to see the heart of the other, to stand in the shoes of the other and to have some sense of “where the other is coming from”, they can then move beyond seeing the other as someone to be hated. Though still hurting, their maturity enables them to stand with their enemy. They will still feel anger; they may choose wisely to dissociate from and non-violently resist the other; but they do not need to withdraw their love. This may be impossible unless it is accompanied by a strong conviction of being loved unconditionally, particularly of being loved by the God whose whole essence is to be merciful. They need to learn to be merciful firstly towards themselves. In time they develop the spontaneous capacity to be merciful to others.

The capacity to love enemies is not achieved simply by wishing it or by feeling obliged to do so. It is a factor of maturity and is clearly connected to clear self-knowledge, self-acceptance and the capacity to empathise. It originates from a strong sense of God’s love.

Prayer. But where would the ordinary hearer find the strength to succeed in responding to life in the same ways that Jesus did? Jesus’ freedom came from his familiarity with the God whom he knew loved him. It was the fruit of his inner journey, the consequence of his prayer. All those who would desire the same clarity and freedom would need to follow the same path of personal knowledge and discovery, the same easy familiarity with God. Time spent seeking God would be the key to the inner freedom empowering genuine and spontaneous love for others, even for enemies. 


Interpreting the Mission (3) – Beginning with Self

Luke 6:37-38  -  Jesus Warns against Judging

37Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
Do not condemn so that you may not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
38 Give and things will be given to you.
They will pour into your lap a good measure,
pressed down, shaken and over-flowing.
Things will be measured out for you
according to the measure you adopt."

In the context, the judging that Jesus referred to was not the automatic assessment of the rightness or wrongness of other people’s external activities from the standpoint of one’s own values. The only way to avoid that reaction is to have no values. The judging that Jesus counselled against was the tendency to judge people’s minds, hearts and motivations. People’s inner worlds are beyond the judgment of others.

Jesus’ use of the passive voice – so that you may not be judged – was a respectful way in the culture to say God will not judge. Care is needed in interpreting Jesus’ injunction. If people condemn others, will God condemn them? Jesus seemed to suppose that God would do the very thing that human persons were warned against. God’s forgiveness would be conditional upon people’s own openness to forgive - which was effectively saying that God’s forgiveness was provisional. The issue is more complex.

The decision to condemn and the choice not to forgive, are themselves indications of inability, spiritual immaturity and lack of freedom. Forgiveness is possibly beyond the capacity of unredeemed humanity. Personally depthing and integrating God’s forgiveness, allowing the work of redemption to operate within, may be the only way people can begin to forgive others. Their own ability and readiness to forgive become expression and proof of the prior forgiveness of God, which is in no way conditional, but is always free gift, part of the experience of the Lord’s year of favour.

Next >> Luke 6:39-49