Luke 6:27-38 (click to display NIV text)
March 3, 2013: Third Sunday in Lent
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
The prophet Isaiah says “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” God is merciful. God is available to those who seek him. He is near to those who call upon him. Even the wicked have a chance with God. They can turn to him and he will have mercy on them. The mercy of God is effective because the word of God accomplishes the will of God.
Jesus pointed people to the mercy and goodness of God. Jesus called his followers to act with mercy because God is merciful. That is the message in this section of Luke chapter 6. There are Old Testament roots to what Jesus says.
Psalm 86:15: “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
In the Old Testament, there were laws that protected people when they were needy or when they could not pay their debts. This was based on the character of God, who rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Leviticus 25:35-37: “If fellow Israelites become poor, help them as you would a stranger. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so they may continue to live among you. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan.”
It is the goodness of God that is in Jesus’ heart when he announces his mission at the synagogue in Nazareth, quoting Isaiah 61. There he mentions release of the prisoner and good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. But how will he bring this release and how will he proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor? He does it by healing people, especially those with conditions that keep them isolated from the community. He does it by forgiving sins, so that guilt is released. Now we see he does it by teaching people to be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Jesus speaks to his disciples about what kind of people they are to be. Joel Green writes, “Jesus calls his followers to form a community the boundaries of which are porous and whose primary behavior is its refusal to treat others, especially those who hate or exclude them, as enemies.”
Before we look at Jesus’ words, we need to understand something about the social order of his day. Society was based on a system of obligations and debts. Any favor or benefit received must be paid back in like manner. If you were invited to a banquet, you were obligated to host one yourself. Nothing was given freely or with an open hand. Every action had a price. If a wealthy person, or benefactor, provided a building for the community, then the citizens were obligated to honor that person with their service, their praise and their vote. So, over time, people kept to their own families and groups were closed and very much determined by wealth. You would not invite a poor person to a dinner, or grant them any favor, because you then obligated them to pay you back, and they could not do that.
Jesus rejects this way of living. He calls people to open-handed sharing because of God’s goodness. He calls believers to treat all people as they would treat their own families. Green writes, “Jesus roots all expected behavior firmly in the character of God.”
Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, to bless those who curse them and to pray for those who mistreat them. That meant if someone would slap them as an insult, not to return it in kind, but to practice a persistent love, to even pursue the relationship. Of course, they might get slapped again. This is not about physical violence or abuse. It refers to a custom of expressing an insult. For instance, a slap was given when a person was removed from the synagogue, as Christians later were.
What this means is that as followers of Christ, we do not repay offense in kind. If someone speaks harshly to us or says something that is not true, we do not close off the relationship. We do not speak evil of them. Instead we continue the relationship to find reconciliation and restoration. It is difficult and risky to do that. We do not do it in our own strength, but in the strength and mercy of God.
Jesus says that if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your shirt from them. In his day, people used their cloaks as a blanket at night. They served as protection. Sometimes in a relationship, something happens that causes us to feel vulnerable and hurt. We can react in a self-protective way, or we can take a risk and listen to that person, even care for that person who has hurt us. This is difficult to do.
For example, in our country racial minorities have been deeply wounded by the dominant culture. It is not easy for one of that group to begin a friendship with one of the majority group. It must feel like risking your protection to do that. It is safer to stay in the family or close group. Reconciliation is hard when the wounds have a history behind them. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” feels like it lacks protection. It is difficult to live by the Golden Rule when your cloak is missing. But Jesus, whose clothing was taken from him when he was put on the cross, is able to sympathize with us, and provide grace and strength to live with a commitment to reconciliation.
Then Jesus talks about “credit.” “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” This refers to the society of obligation: Every good deed must be repaid, the debts must even out. Jesus wants to break the credit system. He tells us to do good to those we do not know and lend to people not expecting any return. This is the heart of evangelism, to show the love of God outside the church fellowship, and to share the Gospel with people who may never come to our church, but still need the Lord. When we live this way, we begin to experience in deeper ways the mercy of God.
Finally, Jesus gives a wonderful picture of what this life looks like. He says, “Give, just like a righteous grocer measures out grain when people come to buy at his store.” He dips the measure into the sack of grain, takes a full amount, and then shakes it, so it settles, and then he presses it down, so he can put more in to fill it up. That is quite a grocer! Jesus says “That is he kind of measure to use when you are giving to others.”
What is Jesus saying to us? He is saying that we are to seek the mercy and goodness of God in life, even when our experience is difficult.
He is saying that God’s mercy is to be our source for showing mercy. Do not try this alone or on your own. These are hard things to do. Ask for help. Let’s be merciful together. Do not allow yourself to become isolated when you face a difficult situation, when you have an enemy threatening you. Ask for help.
Jesus is saying make sure in some way you are giving to the poor and needy. Find good ways to do this, but discover what it is to be generous to those who are poor.
Finally, this passage is an invitation to live in Christ and to experience the Lord’s favor through Christ. You cannot live this way in your own strength. You cannot always be a forgiving, generous person. Draw near to Christ. Rely on him. Let the cross be the center of your life. You need his mercy, if you are going to be merciful.
In today’s final hymn we sing, “Jesus what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in him; tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, he, my strength, my victory wins. Hallelujah, what a Savior!”