Genesis 25:3-11, 15– Joseph and his brothers, and father.
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40– Do not fret because of the wicked. They will soon fade like the grass. The meek shall inherit the land.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 – Paul continues his teaching on the resurrection. Your current body is a seed. What is sown is a perishable, physical body. What is raised is an imperishable, spiritual body.
Luke 6:27-38– Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.
Looking ahead: Lent C
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
– Joel 2
March 3, 2019, is Transfiguration Sunday. Lent begins that week on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.
The Prodigal God
The story of the Prodigal Son comes up this year. It only appears in a Lukan year, and it only appears Lent 4C (March 31 2018). Most readers and preachers assume this well-known story is about forgiveness. Timothy Keller, in his book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, says the story is ultimately about the self-righteous moral disease of the older brother. At the very least, this easy read will enhance your preaching, reminding you of the cultural context most of us know, but sometimes forget. However, the publisher (Dutton) also offers a study guide, and a DVD, so this book could make an excellent small group study in Lent (or early Fall) when the story surfaces in the lectionary.
Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father
Sermon on the Plain, Part 2: Luke 6:27-38
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
After clearly delineating the injustice in the world, between rich and poor, Jesus, who is called to preach good news to the poor, makes it clear that God cares for those in need. They are blessed. Then he engages his disciples on how to conduct themselves in the face of such injustice. Love your enemies. Give to those in need. Share your worldly goods. Lend, expecting nothing in return.
Luke boils down the central moral/ethical teaching of Jesus. After the beatitudes, Jesus begins with three hard words: “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.” One might spend a lifetime learning this difficult art.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote extensively on this. His book, Strength to Love, is profound. Coretta Scott King wrote, “If there is one book Martin Luther King.Jr. wrote that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love… I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr’s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies– or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practise the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonising gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
Mikeal Parsons, in his commentary on Luke, from the Paideia series, divides this section into four parts. Simplifying his remarks, I would characterize them as follows:
- 9 moral imperatives.
- 3 rhetorical questions: love, do good, lend.
- 3 moral imperatives, with the same verbs as in 2: love, do good, lend.
- 4 moral imperatives bridging to the next section: Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive, give.
The moral imperatives are in the plural. “Y’all,” not “you.” They are directed not just to individuals, but to the community, the society.
Our amygdala is the critical “fight or flight” part of the brain that in a crisis instantly direct us to run away! or fight! Jesus offers us what Walter Brueggemann calls “the third way.” Not fight or flight. Stay and resist. Do not run. But also do not use violence (physical or verbal) to destroy your enemy. Do not passively accept injustice, but also do not create more injustice by resorting to violence. Instead, stand your ground, even if you have to take a few blows for justice. Do not run. Do not hide. Do not be passive. Turn the other cheek.
While there is a command to love ones neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and even the resident alien (Lev. 19:34), there is no explicit command to love ones enemy in the Torah or Prophets. It’s does pop up in inter-testamental Judaism. Parsons quotes the Testament of Benjamin (2nd C.):
A good man . . . shows mercy to all, even though they are sinners. And, though they devise evil against him, he overcomes evil by doing good. . .
It is quite possible that Jesus is alluding to the Romans, who are occupying Israel. Do not retaliate against acts of violence with more violence. Where would this end? Someone must break the cycle of violence. In the next chapter, Luke shows us a benevolent centurion.
I have seen this work. When someone treats you poorly, feeling justified because they think you have acted against them, and you keep responding to assaults with kindness, something in them begins to shift. We trade the satisfaction of watching our persecutor suffer, for the greater good of potentially turning an enemy into a friend. As MLK makes clear, this is impossibly difficult, especially when we are really suffering from others’ acts against us.
The next imperatives explore the first imperative to love the enemy.
- Do good to those who hate you.
- Bless those who curse you.
- Pray for those who mistreat you.
Drawing on Grundmann, Parsons points out a progression from hate (attitude) > to curse (words) > to mistreatment (action). Meanwhile, Jesus’ suggested responses become more spiritual: Do good > bless > pray.
Paul picks up this ethic in Romans 12:14:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…
The theme of non-retaliation runs through all of this:
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“Give to everyone who begs of you,” always catches people’s attention. I have known many people who considered this a sacred duty. “What if they’re not really in need and are trying to scam you?” one will ask? I have wrestled with this over the years. In every parish I had a discretionary fund. As hard as we tried to verify people’s need, there were times we got scammed. Any time there is a system, someone will try to game the system. I ultimately came to the conclusion that I would rather risk giving to someone who didn’t need it than risk not giving to someone who did. I have plenty. I have a roof over my head. I’ve never had to go without a meal, while millions struggle. Love is vulnerability. Risk. Let it be.
A former parishioner, who grew up in rural Texas, told me once he gives to everyone who begs, without exception, because Jesus said so. This parishioner told me, “I’m not smart enough to figure out who is in need and who is not, who is worthy and who is not. And I have more than I need, so I just give.” I think that’s what Jesus would do. This gentleman didn’t graduate from high school, but he taught me something about Jesus, and life.
One time C. S. Lewis was walking down the road with a friend. A man came up and asked for help. Lewis gave him money. Afterwards, the friend said, “How do you know he won’t spend it on alcohol?” To which Lewis replied, “I’m not so sure I wasn’t going to spend it on alcohol.”
If someone begs and you have no food or cash, just say so. Don’t ignore them. Acknowledge their humanity. Look them in the eye. I like to keep water and granola bars in the car. If their need is genuine, they will be grateful.
Jesus calls us to live differently. One who has received grace lives differently.
In his prison cell, it is said that Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer treated his Nazi prison guards with love and respect, and he won them over.
When our government began detaining those seeks asylum in the U.S. I was furious. But when they began separating children from their parents I felt a sense of rage. And hearing people then say, “Serves then right. They’re breaking our laws…” it was more than I could bear.
I spoke to the CEO at Lutheran Services of Georgia. Here’s how it would happen. Someone would come and offer to watch the child while the mother went to the showers. While she was gone someone would come and take the child away, moving the child to a different facility. Careful record were not kept. Many of these children will never be able to be reunited with their families. It’s just impossible. Many mothers will never see their children again. Ever.
When the American public heard what was going on, an explosion of outrage erupted. When the courts finally ordered the administration to reunite children separated from their families, guess who they turned to. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the most trusted immigration and refugee organizations, in the U.S. Guess what budget they gave us to do this work. Zero. Not a dime. We did this work with your gifts and offerings. With grants from the ELCA and private donors. You cleaned up the mess, reuniting nearly two thousand children. Some separated for months and months. Terrified. There will be lasting effects. And hundreds have been put into foster care, because we will never find their parents, because you can’t ask a six month old baby the names of their parents.
An illiterate at LIRS recently told me a story of being in an ICE facility, and getting called over by a captain to help in a situation. Frustrated by the situation, she nevertheless helped. He gave her his card. Later, when a family that had been reunited got stopped at the airport by Homeland Security, she took out the card and called that ice officer. He said, “I’ll take care of it,” and went right over to the airport and did just that. When we demonize the other, we forfeit the opportunity to build bridges and work together.
Jesus’ teaching might come in handy in our highly polarized, highly anxious society. People of good will disagree about stuff. That’s okay. Don’t run away. Don’t avoid the issues. “Our lives begin to end when we stop talking about things that matter,” said MLK. Don’t threaten to leave the conversation. Threaten to stay. And don’t resort to violence, verbal or otherwise. Stand your ground. Choose the third way. The way of love. Recognize the other person’s humanity. Look them in the eye. Tell them what matters to you and why. Listen. Don’t return hatred for hatred.
Learn the strength to love.