Summary: We have to remember that we love only because Jesus first loved us. And as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to respond to others in the same way God has responded to us. We have to change the story, re-write history, shock people.
I have noticed in recent years a growing lack of any “shock value” in our society. It’s obvious in movies, TV shows, video games, sports, and even the way we talk. To be a millionaire means very little these days; it’s more impressive to be a billionaire. Video games are no fun if they just involve war strategy; there has to be actual, real fighting in all its gory detail. What was once a simple death scene in any movie has become an often over-dramatized blood bath. Athletes are constantly striving for “higher, faster, and stronger,” so much so that the “best” are often found to be using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the media, Hollywood, Wall Street, Activision games, or the National Football League; throughout our culture, there is a constant effort to impress us, to shock and amaze us, at nearly any cost. The result, I think, is that we become desensitized to these efforts, and so the next time it takes even more to “wow” us and leave an impression.
In a similar way, I think we have lost some of the shock value of Christianity. When it comes to our Christian discipleship, though, it’s not that we have stepped out in ventures more and more radical and shocking, but rather that we have not. We have settled quite comfortably into our Christian identity. We live with the impression that it’s easy to be Christian these days: we aren’t persecuted, Christian values are incorporated into our government in many ways; we don’t have to get our hands too dirty, or put too much time into our faith. And the result is that Christianity doesn’t shock people anymore. Instead, we have developed this stereotype I mentioned last week: we are lazy. But, I don’t think I have to tell you, this is not the way of true Christ followers. When Jesus Christ walked this earth two-thousand years ago, he turned power structures and social norms upside down, he shocked people, and these words we heard from Jesus a few moments ago tell us just how he did it, and how we should be living as Christ-followers in the world today.
“If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.” For entire millennia, people have been living according to the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We take seriously the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But now, Jesus takes the whole thing a step further. Not only are we to treat others the way we want to be treated and love others the way we love ourselves, but that love is to extend all the way to our enemies! We should pray for people who persecute us. If someone slaps us on one cheek, Jesus tells us to turn the other also. We are to generously offer grace and hospitality, even to those who have been ungracious to us. Can you imagine what it would be like to truly, truly live out these words from Jesus? This changes the whole story of how we live our lives; it would be completely earth-shattering and totally shocking!
The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Just imagine the best thing you could do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead. To give you an idea of just how incredible this is, I want to put before you an imaginary scenario. Now, keep in mind that this is imaginary, but should you find yourself shocked at such a possibility, remember that this is exactly the kind of thing that Jesus had in mind.
So here it is: Al-Qaeda carries out the most horrendous act of terror on September 11, 2001, killing over 3,000 innocent U.S. civilians. Fast-forward to nearly 10 years later. Navy Seal Team 6 enters the compound where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden is living. Instead of storming the compound and killing bin-Laden, the Team takes him alive. They bring him back to the United States, where the leader is welcomed with a State Dinner at the White House; the President, the Joint Chiefs, and leaders of congress greet him. They tell Mr. bin-Laden that he is forgiven. But they don’t even stop there; he is offered a comfortable home and safety in the United States, perhaps even citizenship. Now, let me be clear that I’m not trying to make any sort of political statement here; I’m trying to make a point. I realize that this is a very tough pill to swallow; we don’t even want to consider such a possibility, and for good reason, I might add. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is just the sort of thing Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words to the disciples and the crowds. “Love your enemies.”