During Prayers of the People at our church we’ve spent months praying for ISIS. When we share this there is always a bit of “shock and awe” factor because who is “worse” than ISIS? But as far as enemies go, I’m not in day to day battle with ISIS… Something about even the term enemy can get us thinking about war and hand to hand combat. Maybe even we think to ourselves, “well I’m not so sure I have any enemies.” Praying for the Hitlers of the world (while absolutely needed) could be the very scapegoat we use to not face our real enemies. There are co-workers, bosses, class-mates, even family members that might actually hold the title more appropriately than world terrorists. So at the beginning of this pericope Jesus challenges us to name our enemies. Where is there “hate” “curse” or “abuse”?
Verse 29 briefly mentions turning the cheek and giving your shirt away with your cloak. Which I’m not spending much time unpacking here except to say that Jesus’ words here have much more to do with creative non-violence rather than pacifism. It’s interesting that in Matthew there is a small section we’ve traditionally titled “retaliation” that Jesus says these things along with “go the second mile.” Then follows in Matthew the text about loving your enemy. But here in Luke’s gospel these verses are more intertwined. This peeks interest about the creativity of actually loving those enemies around us. Could the love of God exist in-between pacifism and retaliation? Although taking this text as a whole, I believe Luke is weaving together a larger theme.
By verse 30 Jesus says perhaps the most difficult thing, at least for me as a “good person” living in a metropolitan area dense with needy individuals, “give to everyone who begs from you…” and “if anyone takes away your goods, do no ask form them again.” This is some difficult stuff! Luke’s thrust here has more to do with loving unconditionally rather than necessarily finding creative non-violent solutions (although perhaps unconditional love can be a creative solution in itself!). Can you imagine if we gave to everyone who begged? This passage in particular, taken seriously, holds the power to completely upheave the political power dynamics of our world.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” This phrase is repeated in verses 32, 33 and 34. Most of us spend our time loving those who love us. We primarily exist in a love bubble. This is easy, Jesus says. Anyone can do this. Even the wicked have this on lock down. This is nothing more than a typical barter system. You give me something I’ll give you something and we’ll do it again. But in verse 35 Jesus says again to love, do good and lend expecting nothing in return. Other translations read, “despairing of no one.”
This raises a lot of questions doesn’t it? What are we getting back here? Loving our enemies and giving to those in need… what is the return? Is it just a good feeling? Is it a jewel in the crown? By the time you get to verse 38 it sounds like God is giving out lattes! (Just read it again… ) Is that what we’re getting? You can feel the ambiguity of the text.
I wonder, though, if the point is there are no points. If you’re caught in the concern of what youre getting out of it… youre just that, caught.
Love has no scorecard.
By the end of this text the temptation may be to see God is the rightful scorecard holder. One way to interpret all this is to say, “God says throw out my scorecard and love unconditionally all those around me… and if I do this I get points from God because ‘the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’” If anyone is allowed to keep score it’s God, right? Is that what’s going on? I would venture to say that this is missing what’s happening here. Verse 35b “you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Jesus gives some clear glimpses into the character of God.
What might it mean that Jesus isn’t trying to give us more commandments and rules to follow, but is in fact inviting us into the very Trinitarian flow? This is the very love that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we are continually invited into despite our ingratitude and wickedness. The irony about living into the flow of God here is the flow itself is the reward. Living further into the likeness and image of God is itself the reward! The further you walk into this place of loving, giving, doing good, the freer you become. It snowballs in affect as the measure you’ve given you later receive! Maybe this isn’t God giving us points for keeping new rules… as much as we are all invited continually into God’s created order that always says: Lend! Give! Do good! Love!