Thought for the day
In the most generous perspective, the desire for retaliation represents a longing for justice and equity. For example, “an eye for an eye.” Such justice is easily distorted into vengeance, hence the limiting of vengeance to precisely equal retaliation in the Old Testament. That tempering of vengeance does not really go far enough. The problem is responding in kind—the ultimate logic of which would be one person left with one eye!! Jesus goes to the heart of the matter: do not respond to violence with violence, do not engage at the level offered. Instead, turn the dynamic on its head: love your enemies and break the cycle of hatred and violence.
Help us, compassionate God, to take to heart the teaching of Jesus that love without limit may be our rule of life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Love for Enemies
Luke 6:27 “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.
Luke 6:32 “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.a 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.
Luke 6:37 “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.”
Our Gospel takes us to some of the best-remembered teachings of Jesus, the heart and soul of Christian behaviour and ethics.
Kind of writing
Luke has shaped the Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49) into three sections, actually followed by the lectionary: Luke 6:20-26 (6C), vv. 27-38 (7C) and vv 39-49 (8C; the excerpt is vv. 39-45). Each section is indicated by Luke (vv. 20a, 27a and 39a).
Our reading is a complete unit in Luke, with an intelligible structure thus:
A. vv. 27b-31 Imperatives (practical)
B*. vv. 32-34 Rhetorical questions
A. vv. 35-36 Imperatives (rational)
vv. 37-38 A link to the next section
Old Testament background
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord. (Lev 19:18)
And what you hate, do not do to anyone. Do not drink wine to excess or let drunkenness go with you on your way. (Tob 4:15)
I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you. (Ps 82:6)
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Lev 19:2)
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17–19)
Within the Jewish tradition, we read:
See then, my children, what is the goal of the good man. Be imitators of him in his goodness because of his compassion, in order that you may wear crowns of glory. For a good man does not have a blind eye, but he is merciful to all, even though they may be sinners. And even if persons plot against him for evil ends, by doing good this man conquers evil, being watched over by God. He loves those who wrong him as he loves his own life. (Testament of Benjamin 4:1–3)
Any crass contrast between Judaism and Christianity is thus excluded.
New Testament foreground
There is a considerable background in Luke-Acts to the teaching here.
And the crowds asked John, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:10–14)
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44–47)
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32–35)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:8–10)
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Gal 5:13–14)
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Gal 5:22–26)
Verse 27 The opening phrase is strong, even abrupt in Greek, lit. “but to you I say who are listening.” The first imperative is simple: love your enemies. This is really new. There is no command in the Jewish Scriptures to love (or indeed to hate) the enemy. However, in the later Jewish tradition we find the same high ideal (see the Testament of Benjamin, above). Neighbour in Leviticus means one of your own people, not an outsider. This is part of the Q tradition and therefore older than the Gospels.
Verse 28 This is also part of the Q tradition. Commentators note the progression from thought (hate) and word (curse) to deed (abuse). Cf. the progression in Psalm 1:1. Blessing those who curse you turns up again in Rom 12:14.
Verses 29-30 The verbs are now in the singular, suggesting concrete action by an individual. Non-retaliation is the key: not to respond in kind but rather to change the dynamic by other means. The slap in the cheek is meant to be insulting: she would sit at the king’s right hand and take the crown from the king’s head and put it on her own, and slap the king with her left hand. (1 Esd 4:29–30) By contrast, the Christian remains vulnerable. The contrast with Mt 5:40 is significant: the outer garment first and then the inner. Cf. The Didache: Abstain from fleshly and bodily cravings. If someone gives you a blow on your right cheek, turn to him the other as well and you will be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles; if someone takes your cloak, give him your tunic also; if someone takes from you what belongs to you, do not demand it back, for you cannot do so. (Did 1:4) V. 30 has been labeled the most outrageous of the instructions. It is good to remember that these are not rules to be followed in a mechanistic way but illustrations of principle. Again, The Didache 1:5-6 moderates the interpretation.
Verse 31 The Golden Rule is found in the Old Testament and widely in the culture (cf. Homer, Oddyssey 5.188–89; Seneca, On benefits. 2.1.1). The motive is not reciprocal benefit but is entirely altruistic. Christian agapē has been defined as: seeking the well-being of the other without expectation of benefit to one’s self. This contrasts with the culture of mutual benefaction of the time.
Verses 32-34 The argument here is an explicit rejection of reciprocity (“credit”, “doing good”). The argument is a syllogism with a step implied: “but more is expected of you” (technically an enthymeme). If those without the faith manage to that much, how much more…etc.
Verses 35-36 This is a resumption of the earlier principle, missing from the same material in Matthew, but serving to underline Luke’s purpose here, making the rejection of reciprocity super clear. It adds a motivation: this is how God acts, being kind to all without discrimination. Again, this is quite Jewish: Be a father to orphans, and be like a husband to their mother; you will then be like a son of the Most High, and he will love you more than does your mother. (Sir 4:10)
Verses 37-38 Notice the progression from judgement to condemnation, resembling the progression from forgiving to giving. In antiquity, sellers of wheat were notorious cheats; by contrast, God will give “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” Jesus calls us to unlimited generosity, after the example of God, not for the sake of the reward but so that we might be in the image and likeness of God, who is kind to all.
Pointers for prayer
1. Our natural tendency when attacked is to self-protection and when we are attacked we attack back. We respond to an angry word with another, or to a blow by hitting back. Here Jesus suggests that at times there may be another way to act. What has been your experience of retaliation? Has it been life-giving? Have you experience of another way of acting?
2. When we do good to another, it can sometimes be in return for what we have received. At other times it can be done in the hope of getting something back. Or we may do it simply for the sake of doing good without any strings attached. Jesus suggests that this is when we are at our best. Recall your experience of these different ways of giving and celebrate the occasions when you gave without expectation of return.
3. Jesus proposes the generosity of God as a model for our generosity, and says that the generous will be rewarded. Perhaps you have experienced rewards, even in this life, from generous behaviour.
Compassionate God and Father, you are kind to the ungrateful, merciful even to the wicked.
Pour out your love upon us, that with good and generous hearts we may keep from judging others and learn your way of compassion.
We make our prayer through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.