To love the way Jesus did, is strangely difficult for human beings. One of my personal mantras is, “Do not let other people’s behavior determine your own.” It’s a good rule to live by, and it is often challenging. We are reactive beings. Our emotions take over and we respond to our environment. It is hard not to be angry when anger is coming at you. It hard not to be hateful when hatred is coming at you. It is hard not be fearful when fear is coming at you. Unfortunately, for complex reasons, it does not equally hold true that it is hard not to be loving when love is coming at you. I have often wondered why we are more easily swayed by emotions like anger, fear, and hatred than we are by love, mercy, and forgiveness. Yet, the truth of this is behind the passage in Luke 6 that comes right after the Beatitudes.
When something is repeated in scripture or Jesus pays particular attention to it, then we should attend to it as well. In this particular passage, Jesus is telling the disciples how to live in a way that is consistent with building the kin(g)dom of God here on earth. He isn’t judging them; he is encouraging them. Jesus knew how hard it was for them, and how hard it is for us, to love the way he loves. So he laid it out clearly.
My question is why do we continue to resist these words? How can anyone hate in Jesus’ name after reading this passage that begins with the very clear command, “Love (agape) your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” This does not mean that we let people trample all over us. It means that we do not respond with the same behavior. Moreover, we are asked to lead them away from hatred, cursing, and abuse toward lives of love. That’s what the instructions say. Do good in response to hate. Bless in response to curses. Pray in response to mistreatment. Do not respond in kind. Put an end to inappropriate behavior by all means. However, as followers of Christ, we are supposed to respond with love, mercy, forgiveness. Sometimes this is easy. Most of the time it is not. And these days, few seem to remember.
How do we as followers of Jesus reclaim this command to love our enemies and treat others as we wish to be treated? How do we remind ourselves in those moments when we are confronted with judgmental vitriol and/or fear-filled hatred that we are supposed to respond in love, with love. How do remind ourselves to take a deep breath and say, “Enough. I will not participate in your fear, anger, and hatred”? What is the healthier, more loving response to those who would hate us, particularly those who hate and claim to be Christian?
What might the world look like if we stopped judging everyone around us? What if we gave to everyone who asked? What if we gave our shirts to those who take our coats? What if we gave without expecting anything in return? In addition, to giving money or clothes or food or housing or healthcare or education, what if we also offered a blessing and prayers for well-being? Maybe then there would be a decline in hopelessness. Maybe the rates of gun violence and suicide would decrease. Maybe we would see the “other” as siblings – recognizing their humanity and divinity.
Call me naïve, but I honestly think that if everyone who called themselves “Christian” followed these instructions Jesus laid out in this passage, there would be no room for White Supremacy, systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism and all the other phobias and isms that create kyriarchy in our world. We would have not choice but to recognize Christ in all our neighbors and respond accordingly.
The question remains: How do we do this? My answer is one person, one situation at a time. Let’s all challenge ourselves to respond with love, mercy, and forgiveness no matter what comes at us. Our behavior does not need to be determined by the behavior of those around us. We can, indeed, treat others as we wish to be treated.
RCL – Epiphany 7C – February 20, 2022 – Genesis 45:3-11, 15 • Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 • 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 • Luke 6:27-38