Apostles Fourth Sunday

Love for the enemies. Luke 6:27-36

INTRODUCTION

When Jesus introduced the theme of “love for the enemies,” the example he presented for it was God. Jesus demonstrated the acts of divine love in his life also. We don’t see Jesus taking revenge on his enemies. He only tried to correct the false teachers who eventually turned out to be his enemies. Even when they persecuted and crucified him, Jesus prayed for them. He helped many, Jews, gentiles and Samaritans, without expecting anything in return. He instructed his disciples to follow his example. Many Christians did acts of love without expecting any recompense throughout the centuries since the establishment of the church.

Bible Text

(27) “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, (28) bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (29) To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. (30) Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. (31) Do to others as you would have them do to you. (32) For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. (33) And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. (34) If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. (35) But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (36) Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.

Interpretation

(27) “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

This verse is to be understood in the background of Mathew 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 and Jesus was not quoting from the Old Testament. That is why unlike saying “have you not read” he had said, “have you heard. 

“Hate your enemies” was a wrong teaching of the Rabbis taken out of context from God’s instruction to Israelites when they were going to occupy Canaan. “However, in the cities of the nations that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not leave alive anything that breathes. You must completely destroy them— the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites— as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they cannot teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods and cause you to sin against the LORD your God”. (Deut. 20:16-18). This was a preventive action to keep the first commandment of God. Though the Israelites remained as a separate colony in Egypt, their interaction with the pagans in Egypt had influenced them for worship of Egyptian gods. God did not want to have similar error happen in Canaan. The religious leaders applied this transitory command of God to later use for any enemy including the Jews themselves.

In fact, the Old Testament also taught of treating the enemies with respect and kindness. “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him," (Exodus 23:4-5). In Proverbs we read, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink," (Proverbs 25:21). “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and when they stumble, do not let your heart exult.” (Proverbs 24:17).

Jesus reversed the false teaching of the rabbis and misunderstanding of the ordinary people on how to treat one’s enemies. There is no question on how to treat a fellow Jew who was a friend. Now the enemy also need to be treated like a friend. The disciple of Jesus 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. In fact, he prayed for them and healed some of them.

(28) bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Our natural tendency is to curse those who curse us and to mistreat who do the same to us. However, Jesus not only taught otherwise, he did practice it. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately restored the man’s ear miraculously. This 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 at the bitter most time of his passion saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

The disciples of Jesus followed what Jesus exemplified in his life. When St. Stephen was stoned 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).

(29) To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.

This verse is not to be taken in the literal sense. It is an Eastern style of exaggeration to convey a teaching that Jesus often used. Jesus did not offer himself to strike again when one of the officers of the high priest slapped on his face. Instead, Jesus said, “If I said something wrong, testify to what was wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why did you strike Me?” (John 18:23). St. Paul also did not offer his face to repeat the strike on his face. “The high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit here to judge me according to the Law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck.’ But those standing nearby said, ‘How dare you insult the high priest of God!’” (Acts 22:2-4).

Jesus here 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 be retaliating or fighting with the aggressiveness of others.

(30) Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.

Give to everyone who asks of you
Here also the message is not to be taken in a strict literal sense. However, the message is that we should not deny anything for a deserving person. St. Paul wrote, "If a man will not work, neither let him eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Those who can work and find a job, should do his earning by labor. We do not have to give to undeserving persons and deny help for a deserving person.

From the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
In the Old Testament, God asked Israelites to avoid interest and taking profit for sale of food from their own people who were poor. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” (Exodus 22:25). “Now if your countryman becomes destitute and cannot support himself among you, you are to help him like a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not take any interest or profit from him, but fear your God, that your countryman may live among you. You must not lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit.” (Lev. 25:35-37). Jesus expands this to all people and even asked to provide 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 giver or lender shall be considerate to such a person. According to Deuteronomy 15:1-3, “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is the manner of remission: Every creditor shall cancel what he has loaned his neighbor. He is not to collect anything from his neighbor or brother, because the LORD’s time of release has been proclaimed. You may collect something from a foreigner, but you must forgive whatever your brother owes you.”

(31) Do to others as you would have them do to you.

When taken independently this is a golden rule and a maxim found in many cultures and religions. But it makes more sense when connected to the love of enemies. Jesus agreed with this general rule and asked his followers to go far beyond the ordinary.

(32) For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

People generally 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 loving those who love us, 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 might do this to their life partner. 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 continued to love, forgive and support his ungrateful children.

(33) And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.

This verse is parallel to the previous 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. That act is rewarded by the return of good from the other person. Our righteousness in front of God is based on how good we are in treating even those who does bad to us. God himself is the example for this. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mathew 5: 44-45).

(34) If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.

Jesus again presented another example of how to be different from an ordinary helper. Any person, including a sinner, would lend money expecting repayment. That is not considered as a charity to deserve reward from God. A Christian should surpass such help and be more generous like God the Father.

(35) But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to 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 in good terms and expecting the same back. They are not worth reward from God. However, when we do the same for our enemies, they are highly rewarding and such people will be considered as children of God. Our image and likeness of God should be reflected by our extraordinary behavior in imitating God who is patient and supportive of the ungrateful and wicked people.

(36) Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.

This summarizes the gospel passage. Jesus came to introduce the merciful love of God to us directly. In the past, God had manifested his love to all humanity, especially Israel. However, people did not recognize it and they did not imitate God in loving their ungrateful neighbors. Jesus taught us the mercy of God in his words and actions.

 Message

1. Love is a natural human response and expressed to those who love us. Love of those who hate us is divine and shall be willfully done by imitating God. As children of God, we must imitate God’s benevolence to those who are ungrateful to us. That will result in reward for us by peace in this world and in the world to come.

2. We can have two attitudes in life. Refrain from doing bad and keep doing good for others. Christianity involves in both and more. Besides not hurting others, we must do good not only to those who help us but even to those who cannot do any good to us. Following the directive of Jesus, let us do good even to our enemies and strangers.

3. Lending money for interest and to those who can repay us is not meritorious. God will reward us when we willfully share our resources, talents and time for those who deserve it and those who cannot repay us.

4. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to recite: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Let us act as if we can pray: “Be merciful to us as we are merciful to those who are ‘ungrateful and wicked’.”

5. Some people who received love, healing, and forgiveness from Jesus were ungrateful to him. However, he was never discouraged by the setbacks and worldly failures including his humiliating death. He was sure of his resurrection and glory in heaven. Let us not be discouraged by the letdowns in our unselfish ministry for the Lord’s people.

6. Our love and service shall not be limited to our own family, parish, faith community, or nationality. All including our enemies shall be treated as children of God and as our brothers and sisters.

7. We should see the image of God in those who cannot help themselves or return anything back to us. We should find ways to help them from our resources regardless of how limited they are.