“But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” –Luke 6.27–36I want to hover over these verses a bit for the next few e-Sights. Jesus’ teaching here is critical. The “love your enemy” ethic of Jesus was the deal breaker for many who initially desired to be His followers. Let’s look at some background first this week and then wrap up with a seven day challenge.
Let’s go back to Luke 4, which we covered a few weeks ago, where Jesus first began to teach “love your enemies” in the Gospel of Luke, and take another look. This will be from Luke 4.16–28:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What I find profound is that if you go back and look at the original statement in Isaiah 61.1-2, Jesus was virtually saying, “I will be announcing the favor of God and leaving off all that ‘vengeful God’ stuff.” But what those in Jesus’ audience did not catch yet was that Jesus would be proclaiming God’s favor on all . . . even their enemies. Follow closely:
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Initially, everyone was speaking well of Jesus at this stage, but it’s as if Jesus was saying, “You guys aren’t getting what I’m saying. Let me make it a little more clear.” So he dropped two stories from their history that, because of their location, were loaded: the widow of Sidon and Naaman the Syrian.
To really get the importance of what Jesus was doing here, we have to take into account what this was saying to those present. This was not so much about Elijah and Elisha as it was about Sidon and Syria. Jesus was referring to the history surrounding the Maccabean revolt. Here is just a little bit of history:
Judas Maccabeus’ father was Mattathias. Mattathias’ dying words to his sons were, “Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.” (1 Maccabees 2.68). Judas Maccabeus, in standing up to the Seleucids (Greeks), earns the nickname “The Hammer” for the very reason that he is fulfilling his father’s dying wish. A messiah, “Judas Maccabeus’” style was the expectation when Jesus arrived on the scene. Sidon was a significant city under the Seleucid Empire, and the memory of the torture of Hebrews by the hands of the Seleucids was recent history (Read 1 and 2 Maccabees). In addition, the gentiles of Sidon would have been associated with the history of the Seleucid tortures (1 Maccabees 5.15); Syria was where the Seleucid Empire was based. Rome simply referred to the Seleucid Empire as “Syria.” In Luke 4, when Jesus announced he would proclaim God’s favor but not God’s vengeance, and then drove it home by mentioning that it included even their tormentors, it was too much for them to take.
It was like telling Cubans that God’s favor applied to Fidel Castro, too. Or to Venezuelans that God’s favor applied to Hugo Chaves, too. Or to Israel that God’s favor applies to the Palestinians, too. Or to Americans that God’s favor applied to Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, too.
NO WONDER they wanted to throw him off the cliff.
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff.”
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching about God, ourselves, and others (as well as how we are to live), was a loud cry to now love your enemies. It was as if Jesus were saying, “I know you’ve been taught to love your neighbor. Now I’m going to teach you how to love your enemies. I know it’s new. But then you’ll be like Him who sent me,” (Lev 19.18; Matthew 5.43–45; John 13.34).
This teaching of Jesus has, ever since the “conversion of Constantine” in the fourth century, never proven to be popular. Following Jesus has become tamed, domesticated, and conventional. But the picture we get of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is of an itinerant going around and gathering those who will join him in a revolutionary way of living life that he calls “the Kingdom of God.” The “Kingdom of God” is not some place out in the heavens, nor is it a place some go to when they die. This “Kingdom of God” is a radical rearrangement of how we see God, ourselves, and everyone else that leads to a radical rearrangement of how we do life in the here and now. It is a radical rearrangement of how human beings arrange their society that is “of God” or “from God” . . . to us . . . through this person Jesus. To enter THIS is entirely revolutionary. It is a radical break with life as we have known it, as it has been given to us as we have been told; as we have been instructed is the natural way of life. It is a call to go against how we have been indoctrinated, to go against the scripts we have been handed, the rules we have been given on how to play the game (personal rights, tit for tat, etc.). To “follow Jesus” is to break with all of that and say, “I want to live by an entirely different evaluation of what is important.” It’s radical. It’s revolutionary.
Today, Jesus is still extending an ongoing invitation to join his revolution. He is looking for those who are weak but daring, afraid but believing, unsure but willing to take a risk; people who are simply crazy enough to go for it with Him. To follow Jesus and live the Jesus way is the most revolutionary thing a human being can do. It is not about a ticket to go to Heaven (how boring, tame, and domesticated). It is not about saying a simple prayer, going to church once a week, and then simply going back to the way things have always been done. To follow Jesus IS radical and revolutionary. It is to adopt a completely counterintuitive way of doing life called “The Way,” of which Jesus is the template. The “Kingdom of God,” rightly understood, is an alternate society formed around Jesus, His picture of God, and His teachings. It is about leaning to follow the Jesus practice of love, forgiveness, restorative justice, mercy, and fidelity to self-sacrificial, other-centeredness.
We are too skilled at taming revolutions and making them conventional. Too skilled at turning things like the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of enemy love into a blasé blessing of the conventional life we have always known.
As Brian Zahnd was recently quoted as saying, “The seeds of revolution will always be present as long as the Jesus story is always around, and you just never know when someone might leap.”
1)Prayerfully and thoughtfully reread Luke 6.27–36. Since I want to add something extracurricular, so to speak, I would like you to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Christmas sermon from 1967. You can find it at http://endsandmeans.org/2010/01/18/martin-luther-king-jrs-christmas-sermon-1967/
What I find interesting about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that as a Baptist minister, Christianity had so domesticated the teachings of Jesus that he had to go to India and meet Gandhi to encounter the Jesus teachings of enemy love. Wow.
2) A Seven Day Challenge:
This part will not be easy for you. I want you to picture in your minds eye the person on this planet you like the least. Do you have them in your mind? Good. Now, I want you to simply pray for them for the next seven days. That is all. Once a day, for the next seven days, pray for them, sincerely. Pray blessings on them for just seven days. And then make sure you do number 3 next.
3)Prepare to share with your HeartGroup this week your struggles, your challenges, your insights, your convictions, and your commitments with regard to this aspect of Jesus’ teachings this week. Then, as a group, spend some time in prayer over what it truly means to follow Jesus.
Last, for everyone, I want to recommend the 11-part series from RHM that we did last year on the active non-violence (or enemy love) of Jesus. If you would like to listen to them, the title you will be looking for is The Active, Non-Violence of Jesus, Parts 1-11. You can find this podcast series at:
Or, if you would like to simply read through the series, you can find the same E-sight series at:
Today, wherever this finds you, love subversively and dedicatedly. Do not wax cold until a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. Vive la resistance. LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!