Luke 6:27-38 (NIRV)
Love Your Enemies
27 “But here is what I tell you who are listening. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who call down curses on you. And pray for those who treat you badly. 29 Suppose someone slaps you on one cheek. Let them slap you on the other cheek as well. Suppose someone takes your coat. Don’t stop them from taking your shirt as well. 30 Give to everyone who asks you. And if anyone takes what belongs to you, don’t ask to get it back. 31 Do to others as you want them to do to you.
32 “Suppose you love those who love you. Should anyone praise you for that? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And suppose you do good to those who are good to you. Should anyone praise you for that? Even sinners do that. 34 And suppose you lend money to those who can pay you back. Should anyone praise you for that? Even a sinner lends to sinners, expecting them to pay everything back. 35 But love your enemies. Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will receive a lot in return. And you will be children of the Most High God. He is kind to people who are evil and are not thankful. 36 So have mercy, just as your Father has mercy.
As a chaplain. one of my favourite parts of my role is being part of our university community’s conversations about religion and faith in the modern world. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of debating topics like the existence of God, how we approach love and sex, whether or not religion breeds extremism and many more. Sometimes my side wins and sometimes we lose. Sometimes it’s hilarious and sometimes it's heartbreaking. No matter the result of the vote or the tone of the conversation, I love it because it is a chance to have a deeper conversation than the world in which we live often allows. Too often, conversations about faith and religion can gloss over the elements of different faiths that make them distinctive or dismiss all religions as being an elaborate — but ultimately flawed — message of ‘The Golden Rule’: Do to others as you want them to do to you. In fact, we find those very words in this week’s Gospel reading in Luke … but they serve as an introduction to — rather than a conclusion of — what it means to live well. When Jesus uses those words, he’s only getting started.
He continues with a set of rhetorical questions that challenge the assumptions we have about whether or not we are loving people:
Should anyone praise you for loving those who already love you?
Should anyone praise you for doing good to people who treat you well?
Should anyone praise you for lending money to those who can afford to pay you back?
Let’s imagine that we were to sit down and do a ‘love audit’ of our lives. We could write down all the ways in which we are loving and kind to the people around us and most of us would feel pretty good about ourselves. But what if, when we were doing up our totals at the end, we had to subtract all the love we give to people who love us and treat us well? What if we were only to examine how well we love those who don’t love us or who don’t treat us well? How would you feel about what was left? Or would there be anything left?
It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that the Golden Rule has a secret ending: Do to others as you want them to do to you as long as they agree to do the same to you. This isn’t a contract. It’s a calling. The love we are called to give is not conditional. It is kenotic, a beautiful Greek word that means ’self-emptying’. It is not passive love that naturally flows from you to those who do good to you. It is the intentional, painful, hard work of loving those who hate you. Blessing those who curse you. Praying for those who persecute you.
The truth is that I don’t want to do this. I want to wage passive-aggressive war on those who hate me. I want to gossip about those who curse me. I want to pray for the downfall of those who persecute me, not pray for their redemption and restoration. I am not comfortable with Jesus’ words here but not because he is wrong. Because I am. If I can embrace these words and allow them to shape my internal ethic, if I can lay down my instinctual response and take up Jesus’ calling, I will discover a way of living that liberates me from my pain and my anger and, somehow, may also liberate my enemy from theirs.*
[*A Caveat: There are certain types of pain, abuse and victimisation for which this message may come too soon. This is not an instantaneous process nor is it a command to stay in relationships with people who systematically hurt and abuse you. If you’re reading this and you’re in that kind of a situation, working through your pain and anger is something that may come much later. Right now, you and your safety are what matters most. The conversation about your healing can only take place once you have left.]
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.