Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV)
I have heard it said “Preacher, don’t give them what they want to hear. Give them what they need to hear.” Jesus did that. The prophets before him did that. They need to hear what God would have them know. They need to hear of the ways of God as opposed to the ways of the world. We all need to hear what God’s perspective might be. Because you see, God’s way is going to be the way to life, truth and hope.
In our world today, the prevailing wisdom is “Obliterate your enemies.” Internet commenters feel free to be as nasty as possible when criticizing someone’s viewpoint. Our partisan politics in this country are uglier than ever in how the parties and participants talk about one another, and the media fans the flames. But Jesus says “Love your enemies.”
That takes guts. It isn’t easy to do good to those who hate you. Love your enemies. That means seeing them as people, not as problems. That means getting to know them and listening to what hurts them. Loving them means helping them grow; doing what is good for them; being forgiving and hopeful on their behalf. But human beings can twist any good thing. I heard an interview* by a former member of Westboro Baptist Church (the one that protests and service members’ funerals, targets progressive churches and synagogoues, puts up hate posters at pride parades.) The question was “How did you understand what you were doing?” She said that they were told, and she believed, they were fulfilling the command to love your neighbor because the loving thing to do would be to get people to see the error of their ways and have the opportunity to change. Now she understands it was a terrible way to treat people. Since she left that church she has been meeting with the groups she used to picket trying to undo some of the damage she recognizes she and her people had done. What she is doing now is the loving thing to do. I suspect someone was praying for her. In fact, I suspect someone she mistreated was praying for her.
Loving your enemy is complicated. Jesus says to do it this way:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:29-31, NIV) At first glance, it sounds like Jesus means for us to just lay down and let people do whatever roughness and wrong they want to do to us. Look deeper, because that first glance is a mirage.
In Jesus’ day, a slap on the cheek was how you reprimanded someone of lower status than you. Everything was done with the right hand, because the left hand was used for unclean tasks, so was considered unclean. If someone slapped you, and then you offered your other cheek, they would be forced to either backhand you, which was a shame on them. It was just not done by good people. OR they had to hit you with their fist on that other cheek. You hit your equal with a fist. So if you offered your other cheek, they either had to backhand you, which lowered them or hit you with their fist which raised you. This whole episode would call out the violence of the moment as unnecessary and inhumane; an affront to God’s reign in the world.
Same with offering your shirt as well when they take your coat. This is not necessarily talking about a criminal coming at you to steal your clothes off your back (but I suspect Jesus would say the same thing… if they are that desperate, you give to them and wish them well.) If you had a debt in Jesus’ day, and couldn’t pay it back, the person you owed could take all your stuff. That’s not so different from today. The person you owed, however, was not allowed to take your only set of clothes. People didn’t have a lot of clothes because you had to sheer the sheep and card the wool, spin the thread, weave the cloth and fashion the garment. It took a lot of time! Jesus is saying that if your creditor is so ruthless as to take even your coat from you, strip naked and give them everything as a symbolic act. To look on someone’s nakedness (and not clothe them) was a shameful act. To take off all your clothes and give them to the creditor would be an accusation. It would be a declaration of the injustice of the system.
And finally, don’t fuss about property and ownership. All of it belongs to God and so we are to hold it lightly. In Jesus’ day there was more of a communal attitude than in our individualistic society today. Extended family was the basic unit. The household would be the patriarch and matriarch, their adult kids and the grands for however many generations there would be. The family held their possessions in common. But Jesus was saying it is bigger than that. We all belong to each other. It is still truer than our society would have us believe. We are all the children of God and all of us live in this house called Planet Earth. Helping each other thrive is the best way to assure we all have a good life and a good environment to live in. Generosity and love build strength. Jesus gave us the ultimate Words to Live By… “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31, NIV)
Blessings to you,
*The interview can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmgZgHpv8Zs
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.