Loving without Liking 2.24.19

Luke 6: 27-38
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do 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. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If 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. 35But 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. 36Be 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; 38give, 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.’
 
Back in the 1970s, one of the greatest baseball teams of all time was the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine. They had a lineup that included Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Jose Concepcion, George Foster, Ken Griffey, and Cesar Gerónimo. Many of them now in the Hall of Fame. They won six National League Western Division titles, four National League Pennants and two World Series. They were the Pirates nemesis during that decade, beating them in the NL Championship Series three times. The Reds’ manager was Sparky Anderson. And believe it or not, he had a dress code for the Reds. When acting on team business off the field, team members were required to wear slacks, dress shirts and blazers. On the field, their hair could not go over the top of their ears, side burns had to stop at the earlobe, and they were not permitted to have any facial hair. The players were not particularly fond of these rules, particularly because the 70s were an era of … well … hair. And lots of it. But the Reds followed the rules. Because it they didn’t, they didn’t get in the game. You want to be a Red? This is how you act. There is a team in Pittsburgh right now that might think about using that kind of discipline.
 
This all came to mind when I read this week’s text. Let me set the stage. You might recall that last week Jesus was preaching to his disciples and followers. The “blessed” folks were there with him and so were close to Jesus and the Kingdom. The “woeful” were not. This week Jesus is still preaching. Who is he preaching to? Those who are listening to him. Us. We are still there listening. We want to be disciples of Jesus. To be on the Jesus Team. Then Jesus tells us the team rules. If you want to live in the Kingdom, here is what you need to do. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you. If someone tries to humiliate you, walk away. If someone sues you and takes your property, let them have it. Give to anyone who asks and expect nothing in return. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Forgive. Wow! These are some hard rules. Really hard. As my mother might have said: “It would be easier for a watermelon to get through a keyhole, than for someone to follow these rules.” Can any of us play for that team? Do any of us want to play for that team? These rules go against human nature. We live in a world where retaliation and condemnation have become almost an art form. Just look at social media. It seems to be a game of who can come up with the snarkiest retort to someone else’s snarky comment. We equate “I hate your opinion” with “I hate you”!
 
Jesus turns all this on its head. I can imagine Jesus’ audience. Us. Like my Mom, we are troubled. “What?” “If we follow your rules, Jesus, won’t we become meek doormats who allow others to abuse us at will?” That would be a misreading of this text. How do we read it? Jesus really has only one rule. Love your enemies. So now we have to break that down a bit. The Greek word for love here is agape. Agape is what you do, not how you feel. Love that is pure verb. But even if we are called to love our enemies, we are not called to like them. Liking someone is a way of feeling about them. Agape is doing good, despite a complete lack of good feeling. How do we love these folks? Jesus says, “treat others the way you want them to treat you.” Not the way they treat you. We call this the “Golden Rule”. Next, we need to know who our enemies are. The Greek work for enemy is echthrus. It means basically hostile opposition. Your enemies are not those who simply disagree with you, they are the ones who try to hurt you. It’s easy to treat the folks who simply disagree with you well. But how do you treat those who seek to harm you well? Jesus provides a brief list. These are cultural illustrations of what loving enemies might look like to his listeners. And he adds an important one. Don’t judge or condemn them. Forgive them. The implication and reality is that if you judge, you get judged back. If you condemn, you get condemned back. If you refuse to forgive, your get no forgiveness. This is not about God. This is the retaliation we see every day in the world. The Greek word for judge is krino. The meaning in this context is punishment or vengeance. It includes condemnation. The Greek word for forgiven is apolyo. It means to “let it go”. So, when we put all these things together, we Jesus tells us this: If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must treat those who with hostility oppose you, not with retaliation, but as you want them to treat you, letting go of your bad feelings for them. This has little to do with conceding, but it certainly does have something to do with justice. It’s called peacemaking. What peacemaking looks like changes with each and every situation. Turning the other cheek and then praying and doing good for someone who physically or verbally attack you does not mean that you must allow them to continue. Complying with those who make unwanted demands does not mean you don’t seek justice. The metric is how would you want to be treated? Treat these enemies with respect and justice, which might mean you have to cooperated or separate. And here is the hard part. Jesus puts the onus on us, his disciples.
 
We are required to do these things, even when we are not treated the same way. How do we do that? Here is one way. Boundaries is a series of books written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The primary point I got from these books is this: No one can control what other people will do or think. The only person I can control is me. So, when someone is acting in a way that harms me in some way, I must decide what I will do to avoid the harm. I need to set boundaries. Boundaries are rules for the relationship. Boundaries are lines I draw. No one is allowed inside my boundaries. If someone crosses the line, I will do act in a way that causes that person to be outside the boundary. My action will not be retaliation, nor will it be judgmental. It will simply remove a threat from inside my boundary. The act might be leaving that person’s presence, asking a person to leave your presence, ending a conversation, changing a subject, or any other action that stops the harm, even up defending yourself or to calling the police. These actions allow you to maintain the boundary of safety you have set for yourself. From there, you can treat the person the way you want to be treated without judgment and, from a safe distance, forgive.
 
This reminds me of the third real Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi. Luke’s nemesis and most evil enemy is Darth Vader. Vader spends a good deal of energy beating up on Luke and trying to get him to join Vader on the dark side. Funny thing, though. Vader is Luke’s father. Talk about an abusive relationship. How does Luke deal with this? He keeps saying (over and over and over) that there is good in Vader. Vader just needs to give in to the good. But until then, Luke spends time fighting, running from, or confronting Vader. Always keeping a distance, refusing to let Vader harm him (though Luke does lose his hand). Luke does not retaliate. Luke does not judge. Luke forgives. But throughout, Luke stands up for justice and for his family and friends. I think that is the way Jesus wants his disciples to act. It certainly is the way Jesus lived. We don’t have to learn how to build and fight with light sabers. But we do need to look for the good in others. And we need to do them good. But if that is not quite the effect you want,
 
Paul offers this, in Romans 12: 18-21 citing Proverbs 25: 21-22: 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 
So, there is that. Regardless of Paul’s alternative point of view, treating someone the way you want to be treated is the kind of love that makes peace. This is living the Jesus way. So, from that standpoint, what Jesus requires of his team seeks peace in the world and so preserves the world. Because if we follow the eye for eye and tooth for tooth method of relating to each other, the reciprocal loss of body parts will end up with no bodies, and nobody. But there is more than that. We are called to treat each other the way God treats us.
 
Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 
And when we do, we become children of God. Kingdom dwellers. Disciples of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, this is hard stuff. The Reds just had to shave and buy some nice clothes. Luke … well … was fiction, and he had the force with him. We live in a world full of conflict and violence. A world where retaliation is not only condoned but expected. Where peacemaking is considered a weakness. And yet somehow, we are to love our enemies. How do we even start? Jesus gives us a way. Pray for them. Pray for the people you count as your enemies. And pray that you can treat them the way you want to be treated. If we do that, maybe, just maybe, we can live the Jesus way.

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