Pastor Drew Williams
Do you remember the show that used to be on TV, “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” I used to love that show, because you’d always have these little kids, probably 4 or 5 years old, and their parents had gotten them all dressed up really well and they all just looked as cute as a button.
And so they’d be brought up in front of the audience, and the camera would pan to where the rest of the family was, also dressed up nice, and then the host would start asking the kids questions. And, of course, the kids would say something cute, or funny, or potentially embarrassing for their family, and everyone would love it.
Well, now that I have young kids, and I hang out with other friends with young kids, I get to enjoy a similar but different show. I call it, “Kids DO the Darndest Things,” because it’s so entertaining, and sometimes embarrassing, to see what new “thing” will be demonstrated by these kids.
And I’ve realized that you can learn a LOT about someone by watching their kids. Right? You get to learn what “choice” words are common in their household. You get to find out what catchphrases or mannerisms are unique to their family. You get to see what makes that family different.
For instance, until Emmy started copying me, I had no idea that I apparently go “ah” every time I take a sip from a cold drink. But there she was, at the age of one or something, taking a big drink from her sippy cup and finishing with “ah.”
But it’s not just unconscious habits that rub off on the kids. It’s also the activities that the family does a lot. That’s because kids are pretty presumptuous. They just PRESUME that they can join in with their parents, isn’t that right?
Any time I’ve got to grab some tools to hang a picture or tighten a screw, Emmy immediately grabs her toy tool set to “help” me. If Megan is going to freshen up some makeup or paint her nails, Emmy just joins in. Kids presume that they GET to do what their parents are doing.
Unsurprisingly, Jesus has something to say about being presumptuous. And he’s going to talk about how kids act in the family of God.
Now, this passage is directed at followers of Jesus. And that means that if you’re not sure you want to be a follower of Jesus, the good news is that you’re off the hook! But if you want to be a follower of Jesus, he has some guidance for us today. So let’s read Luke, chapter 6, verses 27-36.
PASSAGE – Read Luke 6:27-36
We join Jesus and his disciples in the middle of what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Plain. Pastor Chris taught us last week that this is Luke’s version of the collection of teachings that is known as the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel.
And last week, we looked at the beginning of this set of teachings that Jesus gave to his followers, which starts with the list of statements that say, “Blessed are you when blah blah blah.” Those were the highlights of what will follow. You could even think of them as a table of contents for the rest of the Sermon on the Plain. Now, Jesus will begin to go into more depth with each successive teaching, expanding on just what it means to follow him and live with the kingdom of God as your guiding force in life.
Remember, this teaching is directed to followers of Jesus, and Jesus himself reminds us of this right at the start when he says, “to YOU WHO ARE LISTENING, I say…” He has gathered his followers close to him, and is speaking directly to them. This isn’t directed to the religious leaders. It’s not directed at any Roman citizens or soldiers. What he’s giving isn’t a set of values for all humans.
These are family values for the family of God, those who have been adopted by God and are learning from Jesus, the eldest brother of the family, what it means to live in this family.
And for the first listeners of these teachings, what Jesus is saying would be quite revolutionary. That’s because he’s taking common understandings and values that were culturally relevant at the time, and then offering his take on what it looks like to live with God as our Father and King. Will life be the same? Will life be different? Should we have different values than the rest of the people around us? The answer is very clear, “Yes, followers of God live VERY differently.”
“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 mistreat you.”
I love how Jesus knows when to pull a punch and when to just put it all out there. Here, he’s speaking to people who are following him. They are supposedly “on board.” They’re willing to listen to him. They’re sacrificing certain normal things in their life to reorient around his teachings. And so he just makes it very clear, “If you’re following me, THIS is how much your life is going to look different: love your enemies.”
But Jesus doesn’t just leave the command to love as a generic thing. He starts getting detailed. He gives examples.
Love your enemies, the ones who hate you, or curse you, or mistreat you.
He’s forcing us to think a bit deeper about who EXACTLY might fall in this list of enemies, or those who hate us, or have cursed us, or have mistreated us.
I have a feeling that when we first read the passage together, you might have heard the words and thought of a generic caricature of an “enemy.” If you’re like me, you don’t really consider yourself to be the type of person who has any “enemes,” so there wasn’t necessarily a face to put with that phrase.
For Jesus’ first followers, “enemy” could have meant any number of generic people who were not Jews. Romans were enemies. Oppressive leaders were enemies. Samaritans were enemies, or at least they were outcasts. Oh, and tax collectors, sure, they were enemies. And… I suppose lepers? Since they must have sinned against God to receive that punishment? So they are PROBABLY enemies of God.
See, this is precisely why Jesus goes into further detail, because he doesn’t want us to keep the idea generic in our mind, because that keeps our response generic. It keeps our follow-through generic. It keeps everything at an arm’s distance, and therefore is easier to receive in our head but never impact the way our heart interacts with those around us.
So Jesus says, “who comes to mind when I mention those who hate you? Has anyone ever hated you? Maybe you know why they do. Maybe you have no idea why, and it hurts to know that they hate you. In fact, it kind of builds resentment towards them in your heart. If they hate me, then I don’t really like them either!”
Have a name or two in mind? Well, now you’ve got a list of people that Jesus wants you to do something good for. Surprised? He’s not done yet.
“Who is someone who has cursed you? Yelled at you? Said things about you behind your back? Who is someone who has gotten mad at you? Whose face can you picture with furrowed eyebrows and a clenched jaw?”
“Got a face? That’s the person I want you to bless. I want you to roll out the red carpet for them. I want you to get them a gift. I want you to make their day, no, their week.”
“And you know what? Think of anyone who has ever mistreated you. Cheated you. Stole the credit from you. Cut in line ahead of you. Maligned you.”
“Got a couple people in mind? I want you to pray for them. Not pray ABOUT them, pray FOR them. Pray for their blessing. Pray for their good. Pray for them to have hope and peace and comfort and healing.”
Okay Jesus, okay. We get it. We get the principle you’re trying to teach us.
But do we? Jesus is speaking very intentionally here, and so far he has been speaking in the present tense. This isn’t a list of things to do ONCE when you start following Jesus in order to let go of all your past hurts so that you can move forward in life. Jesus is presenting things that are meant to be an ONGOING part of our life.
If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, then the One we are following has said that we aren’t to reciprocate in kind. We aren’t to give payback in equal measure, not even in the way we harbor things in our hearts.
Instead, followers of Jesus are called to respond differently. We’re called to respond in the opposite way, and not equally, but in disproportionate measure.
Got enemies? Show love to them. KEEP showing love to them. Feel hated sometimes? Well, do good in return. Keep doing good to people who are opposed to you. Keep blessing people who are trying to harm you or damage your reputation. Pray for those who HAVE mistreated you, and KEEP praying for those who will mistreat you in the future.
This is an active, ongoing part of following Jesus. And he’s not done with the specific examples.
Verse 29 turns to physical violence, and our translation actually softens the language a bit. The NIV says that if anyone “slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other.” But another way to translate the Greek is to say, “If someone strikes you on the jawbone…”
Jesus is describing something that is less like a polite disagreement from Pride and Prejudice and something more like a bar fight.
And he knows that the natural human response in a physical altercation, or an attack of any kind, is to recoil and protect, and then to retaliate appropriately. I don’t know if you’ve ever been hit, but our bodies react quicker than our brains can. Our arms go up in a defensive posture, adrenaline rushes into our bloodstream, our faces get hot, and we look to push back or attack back in some way.
I mean, the attacker doesn’t even need to be a person for this to be true. Do you remember the last time you stubbed your toe real good? As the pain travels up to your brain, you hop and retreat, trying to protect the hurt area from another blow. And immediately you look around at what vile bookcase or chair just jumped out and attacked you so that you can yell at it or kick it in frustration. If you’re laughing, then you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
Jesus knows what the natural response is, too. He knows how humans normally react. But he’s talking to people who have chosen to follow him, and he’s suggesting a counter-intuitive way for his followers to live and act in the world. In Jesus’ family, when someone attacks you, you don’t recoil and protect yourself, waiting for a chance to strike back. You offer the other cheek.
This is crazy! It’s almost provocative! Almost INVITING further aggression from the attacker. Is that what Jesus is trying to do? Have his followers become gluttons for punishment? Let’s keep reading…
Verse 30 shows Jesus suggesting that if you find yourself in a situation where someone is robbing you, taking your coat, give them your shirt also. In Jesus’ day, a heavy outer coat would have been pricey. Most people wouldn’t have had more than one. And we can imagine the scene if someone was being held up and robbed. The robber is actively trying to grab the item of value—the purse, the briefcase—and the one being robbed is trying to stop them, to fight back, calling for others to come and jump the robber and beat them up and teach them a lesson for taking something that isn’t theirs.
At least, that’s how the fantasy plays out in our mind, isn’t it? The bad guy gets beaten up. The good guy prevails. The victim is rescued. Justice is served.
But for some reason, Jesus doesn’t describe that outcome. Instead of fighting back, Jesus suggests not to arm yourself, but to actively disrobe, to become almost naked in the face of evil and injustice. Give your shirt, too. Give no evidence of violence or threat back. Don’t resist anymore, so that there is not even any more cause for aggression.
This makes me think of all the parents who have ever given advice to their teens saying, “there is nothing you own that is worth your life. If anyone ever threatens you and wants to take your wallet, or your car, give it. Don’t fight back.” Jesus is giving the same advice to his followers, to his family.
And then Jesus says the famous line that has become known as the Golden Rule. Many of us have had this memorized since we were kids. Maybe the version that comes most quickly to your mind uses some older language: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
“What you would have them do UNTO you…” What little kid even KNOWS what that means?
I guess it doesn’t really matter, since most of the time when kids are being told something like this, it’s because it’s in response to them doing something bad. Isn’t that the case? Someone steals another kid’s toy, and the adult in the room says, “Don’t do that! Would you like it very much if they stole YOUR toy? Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
Or when a frustrated toddler hits someone else, the immediate response is, “No! We don’t hit! How would you feel if THEY hit YOU? Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
What the adults are actually saying is DON’T do something to someone else if you would NOT want it to be done to you. Isn’t that right?
And THAT’S actually in line with the common sayings that were in the culture at the time of Jesus. Greek society had exported something similar to the surrounding world in the time leading up to Jesus. Statements like, “Don’t cheat someone unless you would have them cheat you.” Or, “Don’t attack someone, otherwise they will be within their rights to attack you.” These were common knowledge at the time. They’re still common knowledge now.
The other common way of saying the phrase was to talk about reciprocity. The Hellenistic understanding of the Golden Rule was all about how to ensure the response you desired: act in such-and-such a way SO THAT you will be treated the same.
We understand this, right? Look them in the eye and shake their hand SO THAT they remember you. Make a good first impression SO THAT you can get farther in the interview. Send them a Christmas gift SO THAT they get you a gift as well. It’s all about what you can get in return.
But Jesus isn’t saying either of those things, did we notice that? He says, “DO to others as you would have them do to you.”
Jesus says, “Love, without any thought of reciprocation. Just love them. Not IN ORDER to get them to love you back. Not SO THAT they will treat you well. Nope, just love them. Treat everyone as if they were close family to you.”
Then he goes into further detail about reciprocity. Specifically, he’s talking about when we reciprocate to others based on how they have ALREADY treated us in the past.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even so-called sinners do that.”
In the “normal” human model, we give generously because of obligation, right? “Why are we having them over for dinner? Because, they invited us over last time!” Have you ever had that conversation?
Or we show generosity and love to someone because now there is the EXPECTATION that they will do the same for us. “No, no, no, I’ve got it this time. You can get the bill next time!”
There are some people, maybe you know a few, who build their whole social network around this system of IOUs and obligation. They have this sense that the only way to stay in relationship with someone is to keep them obligated to you in some way. Or they only stay in contact with others because of some type of debt they feel they owe them.
Sometimes, it even seems like they are afraid that if there isn’t the obligation or reciprocity, then maybe the relationship will dissolve. Maybe all their “friendships” will disappear. So they keep up the conveyor belt of favors-in-kind, hoping THAT will keep the connection alive between them and others.
But Jesus also points out a slightly different reason for reciprocity when he refers to people who “only lend to those from whom they expect repayment.” You are probably even familiar with the conversation that goes hand in hand with this experience in life.
You find out someone is in need, maybe they are someone who is close to you, or close enough to ask for help. But before you say yes, you mull over the liability. How trustworthy are they? What’s their job situation like? How long do we think it will take for them to pay us back? I mean, I KNOW they are in a hard place right now, but I don’t want to be the person they always come to when they need bailing out. And, honestly, I’d like a return on my investment. This IS my hard-earned money, after all. Yeah, they seem to be pretty decent with money, and this DOES seem like a good opportunity for this business venture. Sure, I can lend safely, knowing they are “good” for it.
See, in this “normal” model of human connection, we give generously and treat each other kindly because of prior obligation or because of a presumed expectation of reciprocity. Honestly, we THINK we’re making choices, but we’re actually not free at all. Our behaviors and actions are actually SCRIPTED for us by our prior liabilities.
And Jesus says, “what credit is that to you?” How is that “the good life?” How is that a free and full life? Jesus knows that loving others, doing good, and lending money are all good things. But when they are done with the ulterior purpose of receiving the same thing back, then those “good” activities are no longer reflecting the WAY of Jesus.
Jesus isn’t trying to stop people from doing good for each other, but he’s trying to end OBLIGATION as the master of our lives.
He’s trying to get rid of obligation so that our behaviors are not predetermined by what we OWE to someone. That’s an awful burden to bear, always feeling like we HAVE to return the favor, or attend the function, or cater to the other person because of some debt we can’t seem to get out of.
Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about, because you have a friend or family member who you feel you constantly owe something to.
Jesus also wants to get rid of obligation so that we aren’t the ones who are shaping all of our behaviors and actions around what we EXPECT to receive from someone else in return. Where we are weighing the cost-benefit ratio of this relationship, or where we are knowingly going the extra mile so that we can call in a favor later on. That’s such an insidious version of manipulation that infects even the “nicest” and “most generous” people we may know.
Jesus wants to do away with these things because living in this way is based on FEAR. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of our bill coming due. Fear of being rejected, so we make sure to try and earn the acceptance of those we feel we’re in debt to.
Fear of missing out. Fear of losing control. Fear of being alone, so we ensure to keep others in our debt, so that we can stay on the higher ground of every relationship.
Fear is a powerful Motivator, but it’s an awful Master for your life. Fear is what drives most of the world, but Jesus knows what drives out fear…love.
In the family of God, LOVE is what undergirds everything. Love is what we receive from God, shown to us in Jesus, and it’s what can overflow out of us into every interaction we have.
So Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good, lend…without expecting to get ANYTHING back.”
Love-without-expectation, love-without-conditions, that’s supposed to be the character trait of this new tribe of people, this family of God, that truly makes them stand out as different from the rest of the surrounding culture.
But Jesus isn’t saying that his followers will be doormats to be taken advantage of because they don’t have expectation of repayment. No, followers of Jesus who trust him and live in this way actually DO have a GREAT reward: they are considered children of the Most High.
And why would living like this count us as children of God? Because HE is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Because God has demonstrated that Love-without-conditions is his very character. That’s what makes HIM stand out among all other potential masters and kings. That’s his very nature: He gives to all, even those who don’t give back to him in worship.
And then Jesus drops the bombshell here at the end. And I love it! I love it because Jesus never lets us think that God’s love is something to be earned. He never speaks for very long before he reminds us of the good news. Even IF this small passage of ten verses was your only exposure to the teachings of Jesus, he makes sure you know that his grace is what makes all of this possible.
“Be merciful, just AS YOUR FATHER is merciful.” Did you catch that? Jesus didn’t say, Be merciful IN ORDER for God to be considered your Father.
God already IS our Father. He already HAS adopted us into his family. He has given us his name as our own, and now we are children of the Most High. And the critical value of being a part of this family is NOT in how we treat others, but it is in how we imitate our father!
In this family, we love. Why? Because our dad does! We’re God’s kids. And what do kids do? They do the DARNDEST things!
Kids imitate their parents. Kids say the same phrases they hear at home. Kids model their behaviors after those who are raising them. But they don’t do all that to EARN their place as members of the family. They do that BECAUSE they ARE members of the family.
This passage, when I first read it, seemed like a list of things that Jesus was telling us to do. In the Lutheran church we would say that it was full of law, law, law. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. And if we don’t spend much time digging into it, we can come away thinking that it’s a list of things TO DO. And most of us would go out thinking that if we didn’t do it, maybe we were bad at following Jesus. Maybe he’d be mad at us. Maybe we should try harder to keep his acceptance of us.
Do you hear that? It’s the same fear and obligation language we were talking about earlier! Do you see how prevalent that is for us? How deep that learned habit is? How easily we fall back into thinking that’s how our relationship with God works?
But then we get to this last verse and Jesus sets the record straight: you ALREADY ARE God’s child. In his mercy, God has adopted us, he’s now our Father, and that fact is what unlocks the grace for us to be ABLE to live this way.
If we start at the end and work our way back, we see this in action. BECAUSE your Father is merciful, you GET to be merciful.
Because he is kind, even to those who are ungrateful and wicked, we GET to love our enemies, doing good to them and lending to them without any expectation of getting anything back, because we already have the reward of being children of the Most High.
We need NOT only love those who love us. We need NOT only do good to those who are good to us. We need NOT only lend to those who we’re pretty sure can repay us, because we’re part of the family of God, and we’re not mastered by fear, we’re resourced by the love that God is continually showing us each and every day.
We GET to give to everyone who asks of us. We GET to actively diffuse violence. We GET to love, do good, bless, and pray for those who seem to be against us, because we are followers of Jesus, and he is the guarantee of the promise that we are children of God. We are part of his family. And in this family, we LOVE.
We are children of the most high, and that makes us different.
It makes us different in how we act towards others because our Dad is that same way. We GET to live uncommon, different lives because we have a Father who removes our debts, drives out our fear, and enables us to love like him with his grace every single day.
So what are we supposed to do this week? Well, act like a kid of God and PRESUME to live like him. We’ve got a great list of actions right here at the beginning of our passage:
Love, do good, bless, and pray. Which one sticks out to you the most today? Which one is God inviting you to do this week? I’d encourage you to DO it! We GET to, because God is enabling us and leading the way.
I want to end with a story that came to my mind this week as I was preparing this message. A few years ago, Megan and I were on a week-long service trip with our middle school youth group. We spent the week down in San Diego, serving in the inner city, helping out where we could, trying to learn how to open our eyes and ears to Jesus as we went.
There was one day when we had finished handing out food for a couple hours, and one of the local volunteer coordinators that we were serving with told us of the dream they had to build a community center to be able to reach the area even better. The plans were there, the dream was there, but they were just in the long process of slowly raising money for the mission.
One of our middle school students raised his hand and asked them, “How much money is needed to build the community center?” The coordinator said it would take at least 3-4 million dollars.
The student nodded his head, and said, completely seriously, “I’ll talk to my mom when we get home and see what we can do.”
The coordinator smiled and thanked him and then moved on to talk to someone else, probably thinking how sweet this little middle schooler was to offer to help raise funds.
Now, I was watching from a few feet away, and I was smiling for a different reason, because I knew who this student’s mom was. It just so happened that this family was the type of family with the financial means and connections that raising a few million dollars was actually in the realm of possibility.
Now, I don’t tell that story because it ends with the community center being built. I’m actually not sure what happened when that student went home. I wanted to tell this story because it demonstrates how kids feel about their parents. That student was asking about how he could help because he had been raised in a home where his parents used their resources to help others all the time. So he knew that he could be generous, because he came from a generous family.
What if we were able to be that CERTAIN about OUR ability to be generous because we knew whose family we were a part of?
Our Father is the Most High, and we GET to be merciful, compassionate, and generous because our dad is that way. We GET to be generous with our resources, because our Father has generously blessed us with all we have.
We GET to be generous with forgiveness and compassion because our Father continues to forgive us each day and pursues us even when we turn from him.
We GET to be generous with sharing the good news of Jesus without fear of rejection because we have already been adopted by the creator and sustainer of the universe.
We GET to be generous with our patience. We GET to be generous with our time. We GET to be generous with our relationships, by loving our enemies, doing good to everyone, even haters, blessing those around us whether they bless us back or curse us to our face, praying for those close to us as well as those who are against us.
We GET to do all this because of the grace of God who has adopted us as his children and empowered us with his love. We GET to be different. Isn’t that good news?