Summary: Jesus calls us to an extreme love, to even love our enemies. He calls us to lay down our rights for revenge, and shows us that God has already given us that kind of love, while we were God's enemy.
Today’s passage is a tough one; that’s why I chose it, so I could better understand it myself. Is Jesus saying we are to give in to bullies? Is he taking away our right to self-defense? Is the battered wife just supposed to “turn the other cheek?” Absolutely not! Jesus never advocates violence. In the gospels, you always see him reach out for the little person: the abused, the neglected. So what is he talking about here then?
Luke records today’s hard teachings as part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” This passage is very similar to the longer “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew’s gospel. Luke has left out some of the Jewish-specific teaching, since he is writing more to non-Jews. Both sermons—in Luke and Matthew—are probably themes Jesus hit on often over his three years of public ministry.
On your outline are three lessons that grabbed me in this challenging passage. See what you think. First, Jesus tells us to...
1. Love the unlovable
He starts off by saying, ““But to you who are listening I say...” He wants to know if we’re really listening. He’s going to give a hard command. It’s not always easy to follow Jesus. Here’s what he says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (vv. 27-28)
What??? That is the opposite of what I want to do! Why on earth would I want to love my enemy, to do good to those who hate me, to bless those who curse me, to pray for those who mistreat me? Well, for now, consider doing it because it shows you’re really listening to Jesus. You’re really trying to obey him because he knows what is best for you. It’s an act of faith. I’ll show you another reason later. But shouldn’t it be enough to say, “Because Jesus said so, I’ll try it”?
This is taking the high road. It’s choosing to show love—the sacrificial action kind of love we talked about a couple of weeks ago in 1 Corinthians 13—to show that kind of “agape” love to people who don’t deserve it. This is some extreme love!
In verses 32-34, Jesus makes the point that everybody loves those who love them. Everybody is kind to people who are kind to them. Everybody loans money when they know they’ll be paid back full with interest. That’s the world’s way of doing business. But, if you follow Jesus, he’s calling you to a higher way.
Thursday was a hard day this week in my VA job. I was trying to push through a last-minute, down-to-the-wire action for one of our new employees, and I hit a brick wall. Several folks across HR and Fiscal said it can’t be done, even though other VAs were doing it. At the end of the day, I was so angry and frustrated I started thinking, “Bunch of bureaucrats! They don’t really care about Veterans or chaplains. They just care about their nice little job.” And I started villainizing them in my mind, which is what I tend to do with someone I’m angry at. And then this passage came to mind. I had been studying it all week. And I had to say, “God, help me. Help them. And help me get off my high horse of judgment and somehow love these people, who are probably trying to do their job the best they know how and keep us all from doing something illegal.” I did something biblical, because Matthew’s parallel account says to love your enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Praying helps you to love them. And my whole attitude began to change. (By the way, even though the action didn’t go through, I’m not done yet. I have to find out how those other VAs got it done. And I can do so much more effectively as I work on loving my “enemies.”)
Love the unlovable, and then, #2,
2. Give up your right to get even
This is where we get to “turning the other cheek.” Jesus says, in verses 29-31,
“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (vv. 29-30)
He is talking here about giving up our rights: particularly the right to get even. The slap on the cheek in Jesus’ day was more emotional than physical. It had nothing to do with physical violence; it was all about public embarrassment. The Jewish custom was to lightly backhand someone in front of a crowd. It was considered a putdown, a public insult, a shaming, a character attack. And Jesus says, “Take it. Don’t respond; just take it. Give them the other cheek as if saying, ‘I’m refusing to answer your insult. I refuse to engage.’” Someone once said you don’t have to accept every fight that’s offered. Sometimes it’s better to just walk away. And that takes a special kind of strength.