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Following Jesus: A New Standard

“[Jesus said], ‘But I say to you that [are still listening], “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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.”’” (Luke 6:27-30, NRSV, the bracketed translation is mine)

In the passage I preached last week from Luke 6:17-26, Jesus pronounced grace for the culturally marginalized people of his day and expressed harsh sentiments toward the wealthy. Passages like this one are hard to preach in a middle-to-upper-middle-class church because we’ve worked hard for what we have and are left feeling guilty for doing well. I could go more in-depth on how Jesus was likely addressing a specific problem he knew of in that community and how we’re caught in the crossfire; however, there’s still a kernel of truth that applies to us. Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus offers some clarification about how we should view our wealth when he says,

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48b, NRSV)

The implication is that while we’ve worked hard and done well, we need to use our wealth in ways that build up the kingdom of God. It’s still a challenging passage that leaves us struggling to balance acquiring and giving away.

The passage I’m preaching this week picks up where last week’s text left off in verse 27. In the English translation, Jesus begins by saying, “But I say to you that listen….” However, in the Greek version, Jesus says, “But I say to you that are still listening…!” This distinction indicates that some people walked out on Jesus when he elevated poor people and criticized the rich. What he says next in Luke 6:27-38 doesn’t get any more palatable or digestible for us well-to-do people, so even though we’re still listening, Jesus knows we may not like what he’s about to say! Jesus says,

“Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27)

I wonder how many more people walked out on him when he said that? Loving our enemies is not only counterintuitive, but it’s not a good strategy for defeating those who oppose us. Why would we want to love people who hate us and who may even be plotting our demise? There are no easy answers here, and I’m sure we can come up with a thousand reasons why loving our enemies is a bad idea. The only way I know how to prove whether this is a reasonable standard by which we should live is to give it a try and see whether it works better than hating our enemies. Are you willing to give it a try?

I hope to see you Sunday as we dig a little deeper into this new standard of living and loving!

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