Luke 6: 27-38
To preach on those verses from Luke is to walk on eggshells. There are so many people who are fragile at various points in their lives, and this story can come like a vicious blow.
One minister who happens to be a woman has written this: “There are women and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent man, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, to turn the other cheek and go back and love him. And some of those women and children are now dead because of that callous and gutless misuse of this story.”
It is important to note, therefore, that these words are not addressed to individual people who have been the victims of cruel abuse. This particular part of the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ is addressed to those who have power… the power to take effective action for good or harm over another person. They are meaningless if directed to those who don’t have any power in a situation. The people listening know just who he means.
“Love your enemies.”
Jesus’s vision of a radical social reversal was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice – not to be seen simply as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who trust in God.
“Love your enemy?” It is our Christian vocation to give it a go. On that so-called judgment day that my evangelical friends often talk about, if there is a question asked, it is quite likely to be: “Why didn’t you take the modest risks in your situation and push yourself to your limit, to give life to the stranger, to your neighbour?”
So what might be Jesus’s word to us today?
The world is a complex place, much more so, arguably, than in Gospel times if only because of the information explosion which means that we know much more about what’s going on in every part of the world.
Unaccountably, for example, right around the world there are those who have worked tirelessly to invent, produce and administer life-saving vaccines who have themselves become enemies. In the name of freedom, people are taking to the streets in protest. They would rather die than show proof that they have been inoculated.
It is chilling to realise that war in Europe is even a possibility in 2022. Thank God, as I write this, it has not. Yet… I don’t know about you but it baffles me, whatever tensions there may be between countries and among power blocs, that anyone thinks war is the answer. Even the threat of war saps the morale of the people.
I don’t regard the people of Russia as my enemies. As with many countries, their leaders are a different matter… But even if anyone is my enemy, I am called to love them, not to wipe them out.
And goodness knows there are plenty of enemies in parliament right now, people who are determined to bring down those they vehemently oppose. It is an atmosphere where words spoken by one member of Parliament in the House of Commons have serious consequences for another walking on the pavement outside. And we have come grimly to realise that, as many of us endured cruel but necessary restrictions on our daily lives, some of those who imposed those same restrictions treated them with disdain when it came to their own daily lives.
“Love your enemies”.
What words might Jesus speak into the circumstances we face?
Maybe he would be calling us to live our lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. Maybe he would be inviting us to nourish our entire life with integrity. Maybe he would be seeking to empower us with compassion so that we may indeed live a new kind of life in this world.
Revd Iain McDonald