“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” – Luke 6:27-28 NLT
Whenever I read some of the message of Jesus, I can almost hear those in His audience looking around at each other with confused looks on their faces, and shrugging their shoulders, as if to say, “What is He talking about?” Most of us have heard these messages a thousand times and we have grown used to them. But those in Jesus’ audience on the day He delivered these words would have been shocked at what they were hearing. Some of what He said probably sounded like nonsense. How in the world could the poor be blessed by God? For those in the crowd who were hungry because of a lack of food or funds, Jesus’ talk of blessing and satisfaction would have contradicted their experience. If you happened to be in sorrow that day due to the circumstances surrounding your life, having Jesus tell you that a time of laughter was on its way would have sounded hollow. Oh, and it gets better. “What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy!” (Luke 6:22-23 NLT). Now let’s be honest. Think about just how ridiculous that sounds. Now imagine how it must have sounded to the common Jew sitting listening to Jesus speak that day. They were already hated, excluded, mocked and cursed in so many ways. Their own religious leaders looked down on them. Yet here is Jesus promising them more of the same if they would simply follow Him.
Then Jesus really confused them. He began to contradict their long-held concepts regarding prosperity and righteousness. Their faith system had taught them that the blessings of God were materialistic in nature. To be wealthy and prosperous was a sure sign of God’s blessing. Yet Jesus pronounces a series of woes on the rich, fat and happy of His day. He paints a completely different picture on how to view these things. Basically, Jesus says that those who find their fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction in the things of this world, instead of in God, will someday be sorely disappointed. The tables will be turned. The justice of God will set all things right. This message would have been a shock to the system of His hearers. All they had been taught and believed would have been turned on its head by Jesus’ words.
And then He really rocked their boat by giving them a whole new way of relating to their enemies. For the Jews, enemies were everywhere. They were then, as they are now, a despised people. They were under the iron-fisted rule Rome. Their entire history had been one of constant wars, living as a conquered people, putting up with oppression, captivity and the degradation of living as little more than slaves in their own land. But Jesus tells them to love their enemies, to do good to those who hated them, to bless those who cursed them, to pray for those who hurt them. This was radical stuff. Not only that, it was impossible. These requirements would have seemed onerous and off-setting to the Jews in Jesus’ audience. His suggestion to turn the other cheek would have sounded ridiculous and repulsive to their middle eastern sensibilities.
But what Jesus was doing was clarifying the standard by which God judges. Jesus tells them, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (Luke 6: 32 NLT). Doing good to those who return the favor takes no special capability. Anyone can pull that off. What Jesus is suggesting is impossible. It goes against our very nature as human beings. But it is the very nature of God. Which is why Jesus told them, “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36 NLT). He is the standard. And what God wants from His people is godliness, not just more humanness. Our humanness is what got us into trouble in the first place. It is our very humanity that will be the death of humanity. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells them “Imitate God, therefore in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT). What Jesus is describing for His listeners is the life of a believer. But He was still in His incarnate or earthly state. He had yet to die, be resurrected or ascend back to heaven. The Holy Spirit had yet to be given. The lifestyle He was describing WAS impossible. Apart from a relationship with Christ, none of these things would be possible. Later on in His ministry Jesus would say, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT). But those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ would be given the power to pull off what Jesus was saying. Their live would be marked by a new set of rules, new power, a new nature, and new capacity for living in the difficult surroundings of this fallen world. Jesus closes out his message with a promise. Those who would listen to His teaching and follow Him, all the way to the cross, would have a firm foundation on which to stand amidst the storms of life. They would receive the power to thrive in this world and live a distinctively different life just like the one Jesus describes in this passage. And we who are in Christ today, are the recipients and beneficiaries of that promise.
Father, even today, some of what Jesus said sounds so impossible. But never let me forget that all of this is only possible through Your grace and mercy. I need Your power to pull it off. If I try to do it in my own strength I will fail. But with You all things are possible and apart from Christ I can do nothing. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men