SET-1: Season of Apostles
When Jesus introduced the theme of “love for the enemies,” he presented God as its example. Jesus showed the acts of divine love in his life. He never took revenge on his enemies. Jesus’ approach was to correct the false teachers who turned out to be his opponents. Even when they persecuted and crucified him, Jesus prayed for them. He helped many, including the Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans. He demanded nothing in return. His instruction to his disciples was to follow his example. Therefore, many Christians did acts of love for centuries, expecting no recompense from their beneficiaries.
(Luke 6:27) But I say to you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. (28) Bless those who curse you and pray for those who treat you badly. (29) To the one who strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek; from the one who takes your cloak, do not keep back your tunic. (30) Give to the one who asks and if anyone has taken something from you, do not demand it back. (31) Do to others what you would have others do to you. (32) If you love only those who love you, what credit can you claim? Even sinners love those who love them. (33) If you do favors to those who do you favors in return, what credit can you claim? Even sinners do the same. (34) If you lend only when you expect to get back what you have lent, what credit can you claim? For sinners also lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. (35) But love your enemies and do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Then will your reward be great and you will be children of the Most High. For he is kind towards the ungrateful and the wicked. (36) Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(27) But I say to you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
We should understand this verse in the background of Matthew 5:43 where Jesus taught during the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The Old Testament never taught to hate the enemies. Jesus did not quote this from the Old Testament. So, unlike saying “have you read” he said, “have you heard.”
“Hate your enemies” was a wrong teaching of the rabbis taken out of context from God’s instruction to the Israelites when they would occupy Canaan. “But, in the cities of the peoples which the LORD gives you as an inheritance, you shall not leave anything alive. You must destroy them under the curse of destruction – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – just as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that they may not teach you all the detestable practices in which they have indulged in honor of their gods, thus causing you to sin against the LORD, your God.” (Deut. 20:16-18). This was God’s preventive action to avoid the Israelites from breaking the first commandment. Though the Israelites remained as a separate colony in Egypt, their interaction with the pagans in Egypt had influenced them to worship Egyptian gods. God did not want to repeat the same in Canaan. The religious leaders applied this transitory command of God later also for any enemy, including the Jews themselves.
The Old Testament also taught of treating the enemies with respect and kindness. “If you see your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, take it back to him. When you see the donkey of a man who hates you falling under its load, do not pass by; but help him to raise it up.” (Exodus 23:4-5). In Proverbs we read, “If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat, if thirsty, something to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21). “Do not rejoice if your enemy falls or let your heart be glad if he stumbles,” (Proverbs 24:17).
Jesus reversed the false teaching of the rabbis and misunderstanding of the ordinary people on how to treat their enemies. A disciple must handle the enemy like a friend. He must love the enemy and do good for him or her. Jesus practiced what he taught, and he did not show any hatred to his enemies. He prayed for them and healed some of them. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to include, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are in debt to us.” (Matthew 6:12).
(28) Bless those who curse you and pray for those who treat you badly.
Our natural tendency is to curse those who curse us and to mistreat persons who do the same to us. However, Jesus taught otherwise and practiced it. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant. Jesus restored the man’s ear. That was his last miracle of mercy before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-12). Jesus prayed for those who crucified him during his extreme suffering on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
The disciples followed what Jesus exemplified in his life. When the Jews stoned St. Stephen to death, “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60). Though the Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christian community, none of them retaliated.
(29) To the one who strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek; from the one who takes your cloak, do not keep back your tunic.
We shall not take this verse in a literal sense. This is an Eastern style of exaggeration to convey a teaching that Jesus often used. Jesus did not offer himself to strike again when one officer of the High Priest slapped on his face. Instead, Jesus said, “If I have said something wrong, tell me what it is; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23). St. Paul did not offer his face to repeat the strike on his face. “At that the high priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said, ‘God is about to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the Law, and you break the Law by ordering me to be struck!’ At this the attendants protested, ‘How dare you insult God’s high priest?’” (Acts 23:2-4).
Jesus used a figure of speech known as hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration or a deliberate overstatement. We also use hyperbolic statements like, “I have been waiting for ever.” Such language gives emphasis to the message that Jesus wanted to communicate: We should not retaliate or fight against the aggressiveness of others.
(30) Give to the one who asks and if anyone has taken something from you, do not demand it back.
Give to everyone who asks of you.
Here also, we shall not take the message in a strict literal sense. However, the message is that we should deny nothing for a deserving person. St. Paul wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should that one eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Those who can work and find a job should do his earning by labor. We should help a deserving person and help an undeserving person to become self-reliant.
From the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
In the Old Testament, God asked Israelites to avoid charging interest for loans and profit for food sales from their own people who were poor. “If you lend money to any of my people who are poor, you shall not act like a money lender and you shall not charge him interest.” (Exodus 22:24). “If your brother becomes poor and is unable to support himself, come to his aid, whether he is a resident alien or a temporary settler so that he may live with you. Do not take interest from him, but fear your God, and let your brother live among you. You shall not lend him your money at interest nor your food for gain.” (Lev. 25:35-37). Jesus expands this to all people and even asked to supply money or food for free for those who cannot afford to pay back.
Here the usage, “one who takes,” does not mean taking by force but by consent or agreement to return in kind or money. Taking by force is robbery or stealing. If the one who promised to repay cannot later afford to pay, the lender shall be considerate to such a person. According to Deuteronomy 15:1-3, “At the end of every seven years you shall cancel all debts. You shall do this in the following manner: the creditor shall cancel any debt of his neighbor or brother, and shall stop exacting it of him because cancellation of debts has been proclaimed in the name of the LORD. You may demand that a foreigner pay back his debts but you shall pardon the debt of your brother.”
(31) Do to others what you would have others do to you.
When taken independently, this is a golden rule, and a maxim found in many cultures and religions. But it makes virtuous when we connect this to the love of enemies. Jesus agreed with this general rule and asked his followers to go far beyond the ordinary.
(32) If you love only those who love you, what credit can you claim? Even sinners love those who love them.
People love those who love them. Even the pagans and unrighteous do the same. We cannot claim any credit from God for loving those who love us. Besides that, we need to love those who hate or persecute us.
There are people who keep hostility or infidelity to those who love and help them. Some children might do this to their parents, or married people do likewise to their spouse. Israelites were often unfaithful to God and went after other gods, while the true God was loving and protecting them. Jesus wants us to follow God who continues to love, forgive, and support his ungrateful children.
(33) If you do favors to those who do you favors in return, what credit can you claim? Even sinners do the same.
This verse is parallel to the earlier verse. It is natural that a person, even a non-believer, does good to others expecting good in return from that person. There is nothing to claim from God for that. He receives the reward when the other person returns the good. God measures our righteousness, basing on how good we are in treating even those who ill-treat us. God himself is the example for this. “But I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 44-45).
(34) If you lend only when you expect to get back what you have lent, what credit can you claim? For sinners also lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
Jesus again presents another example of how to differ from an ordinary helper. Any person, including a sinner, would lend money expecting repayment. Jesus does not consider it as a charity worth God’s reward. A Christian should surpass such help and be generous like God the Father.
(35) But love your enemies and do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Then will your reward be great and you will be children of the Most High. For he is kind towards the ungrateful and the wicked.
In this verse, Jesus summarizes the actions mentioned in the previous three verses: love, doing good, and lending money. It is natural to do these to those with whom we are on good terms and expecting the same back. They are not worth for any reward from God. However, when we do the same for our enemies, such acts are rewarding, and God will consider us as His children. Our image and likeness of God should reflect in imitating God’s way of dealing with the ungrateful and the wicked.
(36) Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
This summarizes the gospel passage. Jesus came to introduce God’s merciful love for us to practice. In the past, God manifested his love to all humanity, especially Israel. However, the people did not recognize it and they did not imitate God in loving their ungrateful neighbors. Jesus taught us God’s mercy in his words and actions.