Following Jesus between fight and flight
[Jesus said] “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:27-38 ESV)
Welcome to Part 2 of Jesus’ sermon on the plain. Our lectionary compliers divided Jesus’ message, after he came down the mountain having chosen his 12 apostles, into three segments and you can read it all in Luke chapter 6. Last week we heard the blessings and woes reminiscent of the message of blessings and curses God gave to Moses for the people of Israel rescued from Egypt before they entered the Promised Land. Jesus is clearly speaking to his followers. The fact that those who hear him are crowds of people – those who came for healing – doesn’t change this fact that his message is for his followers rather than an ethical teaching for the world. Remember it is relationships which govern our behaviour – and quite frankly I don’t see the world signing up to what Jesus said – even the most noble minded person – because to worldly wisdom what Jesus is says is lunacy and a recipe for disaster – where you will be constantly taken advantage of, abused, and dare, I say, it even killed. Jesus acknowledges that the world can love and do good to others but he goes further and teaches mercy – and that is never easy unless, according to the world, you have a big stick or gun or lots of resources so that when things really do ‘blow up’ and mercy hasn’t changed the other person’s behaviour, you can properly ‘fix’ things.
Rather the context of the behaviour Jesus is talking about is the relationship the person has with Jesus rather than the behaviour robotically followed. This is the core of what he is talking about – if you follow me, you are going to have trouble in the world. Now there’s always trouble in the world – the strong pick in the weak, the rich don’t share with the poor, the bully intimidates the crowd as silent accomplices and a person is bullied; there is corruption, injustice, incompetence in public life that affects us – and in Jesus’ time, please remember that the Roman Empire is calling the shots and its soldiers and governors were pretty much untouchable – and we all know the problem that comes with power and assets – hence the blessings and woes from last week.
But now Jesus is speaking particularly into not just the context of violence and injustice of the world but also of the attacks from the world on his followers because they are his followers.
When bad things happen in the world, the world says there are only two options – fight or flight. Sometimes this might be physical – a fight, a war, or a fleeing, maybe becoming refugees. Sometimes this might be standing up and saying ‘No’ and having it out with the person doing you wrong or it is a ‘Yes’ or silence. Sometimes it is about using the judicial system available to you or you’re unable to use it (maybe because of lack of funds). This is all fight or flight.
Jesus, however, in today’s text calls his followers to another way – not fight or flight – but to resist evil and seek to be merciful. The resistance is not an attack as such but it is defying the wrong being done. By the way, who likes someone defying us? None of us! Defiance, for some reason, deeply affects us and we want to put down such a thing and hard. So what Jesus is saying isn’t a ‘soft option’ because the world will feel the same towards Christian defiance of worldly injustice, persecution, and evil.
He calls his followers to love their enemies by doing good toward them, by turning the other cheek, by giving the tunic with the cloak. So often this is interpreted as the response of the weak who has no choice, to appease, but misses the point that these examples are not specific directives but examples of how to challenge and resist evil! This is important to keep in mind. We must recognise that what Jesus is saying is one of resisting evil and loving those who do evil to us. Jesus is not saying that discipleship is about passivity in the face of injustice, corruption, violence, and evil. Instead Jesus is saying defy the sin and evil in the world but instead of flight or fight use another way – which we might call the way of the cross.
We know that Jesus accepted arrest, stopped Peter fighting with his sword, accepted the corrupt justice done to him, accepted scourging, mockery, crucifixion, and death. But interestingly, he didn’t turn the other cheek when struck but instead he questioned why he was struck because the goal isn’t getting a second strike but resisting evil so that the perpetrators can see their own evil. That’s the goal – for sin or wrong or evil to be seen by the perpetrator and for repentance to occur.
Christian discipleship is about responding with strength to evil – it is about standing up to the bully – it is about being defiant to the destructive behaviours of others knowing full well that more violence or whatever may result but also that this is Jesus’ way of getting through to people when they are doing evil, acting corruptly, being unjust. This defiance is based in mercy because it refuses to fight on evil’s terms and it refuses to run away and leave the evil for someone else to face and try and resolve.
We all know that the world would be a better place if we all ‘got on’ together, lived peacefully, and were able to trust others but the reality is that betrayals happen, there is a greed and a desire for power in the world, and so we keep something in our back pocket for self defence. This treats the world as a global fight club and everyone is out to get us in one way or another. But God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save us, rescue us from this world of death, and he offers new life and a new hope through mercy and the presence of Jesus with his followers. You are not alone in your troubles, Jesus is with his people, and he has overcome the world.
Christians are not called to be naive in the world but to analyse and understand what is happening and what someone is doing to them. When Jesus talks about not judging, he is not talking about not discerning right and wrong, good and evil, legal and illegal – he is talking about not judging as God judges who is the only one who should condemn – and we’re not to do that either – but knowing sin and evil within us and being done to us – the goal remains the same as God’s – forgiveness. And the lifestyle we live in this way, does have its blessings – but no one says that this is easy!
Why listen to Jesus? As I said last week, why indeed?! Because his story includes a cross and an empty tomb – which means Jesus always has had us in mind when it comes to living well with God – especially when dealing with sin and evil – in this case when it is done to us.
Part 3 is the rest of Luke chapter 6 – verses 39-49 – why not read them later today and then ask Jesus to draw you closer to him in his grace and mercy so that you can follow him in your life situation day by day? He has drawn to close in this moment – and shortly at his table – and he will never abandon you.
- Luke 6:27 - 38