David Seccombe returns to Jesus’ great sermon as we read it in Luke 6:27-49.
David is currently locum tenens at St Alban’s, Highgate ,WA.BIBLE STUDY
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 ill-treat you.’ Luke 6:27-28
In the first section of Luke’s Sermon on the Mount (6.20-26) we see Jesus preaching his gospel and dividing the people (laos) into a true and false Israel. Here, early in his ministry, he sees himself a rejected sufferer; to identify with him will bring opposition. It will also bring us enemies. In the next part of the Sermon Jesus instructs disciples (‘I say to you who hear’) how to deal with their opponents, and the message is clear: love them!
This is startling. The received wisdom said, ‘Hate them!’ (Matthew 5.43). There is not a great deal in the Torah which says otherwise. How can we account for what looks like a new ethic? The answer is the Isaianic profile of the Servant of the Lord. The Servant suffers grievously, but does not retaliate. This is the nature of his reconciling mission. The connection is confirmed in Luke 6.29: just as the Servant ‘gives his cheek to those who pull out the beard’ and entrusts his vindication to God (Isaiah 50.6), so Jesus ‘did not hide his face from shame and spitting’, and told his disciples to do the same: ‘If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.’ Disciples are called to be uniformly good to those who hurt them. This is what God is like: kind to the ungrateful and wicked. It was also the way of Jesus.
We should consider our own ministries. In the eyes of others we represent God; at least that is what they think we think. People’s hostility towards God, even when they do not realize that they have it, will be directed at us. If we respond in kind, we can kiss goodbye any ministry we might have to that person. Our ministry is to reconcile our fellow human beings to God. So we must continue to reflect God’s goodness, and wait for God to open their eyes. In similar vein, Jesus counsels us not to judge. God foregoes judgement in the hope of reconciliation. We must resist the temptation to write people off, to decide that anyone is beyond hope. How well Jesus modelled this in his own dealings with ‘sinners’!
Much of the Sermon deals with honesty over our own personal condition. Hypocrisy is one way the Devil easily destroys a ministry. How can a blind person lead another, or someone with a log in their eye extract a speck from someone else’s? If we would ever teach in Jesus’ mission, it is essential that we learn from him. And let us not think we can distinguish ourselves beyond him. This may be the ambition of a disciple of a Greek philosopher (or a student of a university professor). But Jesus is no master of some new speculation. He spoke as he heard from God, and his disciple will do well if he holds to the word once delivered.
But truthfully, who can live up to Jesus’ life and teaching? Are we not diseased trees, and is our fruit not also defective? The only remedy for hypocrisy is to be a good tree. The law must reside in our hearts. Here Jesus points us to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which he has come to unleash. In the meantime — as we are being transformed into what we wish to be — the rule is obedience. We may not feel much love within us, generosity may not be natural for us, judgement may boil up inside, pride may goad us, but if we are determined to follow our Master we will get some way along the right road. Following our Lord (not just calling him Lord) is the way to life. His teaching must become the bedrock of our life. To ignore it and build on any other foundation is a certain recipe for eventual disaster, for judgement comes as certainly as his kingdom.