The 7th Sunday after The Epiphany

February 24, 2019


[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)

People look alike because of DNA and they can behave alike because of proximity – being close together growing up is often the place where we learn to behave, what is right and wrong, and what is important in life. We smile at togetherness when seen perhaps in a couple who have been together for a long time and how they finish each other’s sentences or behave as if they can read the other’s mind. I’ve said as a mantra over the years that behaviour is determined by relationships and we choose how to behave based on the relationship or relationships that are important to us. Selfishness, for example, is when my relationship with myself is more important than my relationship with you. And, of course, we live in many relationships so working out what to do, at times, isn’t easy.

Jesus doesn’t make it easy either for people following him. We might call that relationship ‘discipleship’. Our Gospel today continues Jesus’ teaching and explaining what discipleship is all about – what following him means in our day to day living. Having just come down the mountain, Jesus had appointed the 12 apostles from among a larger group of disciples and in the presence of the crowds of people whom he was healing – and whom we assume, were still assessing who Jesus was – he then taught his disciples what following him was all about. Last Sunday we heard about 4 blessings and 4 woes.

Today we hear more of the ‘fine print’ of discipleship. After all the centuries, we hear the description of discipleship and see in them Jesus – he fulfils these words – this is how Jesus behaved – and we often regard Jesus words here as ‘hard’. How can they be followed in practical day to day living? Jesus’ words can seem good in principle – as a goal to achieve – but hardly practical. And if that is how we hear it, then we can imagine how it was first heard – with shock, amazement, incredulity, and scepticism – which I remind us all fade away in the light of the resurrection. Behaviour is determined by relationships and in his death and resurrection, Jesus has revealed himself as the God we do want to follow. He has loved his enemies. He has rescued us – been merciful to us – and defeated the powers of evil and death to hold sway over us.

This is what is important about Jesus and evil. Jesus defeated evil’s power; broke death’s power to hold forever; and gives forgiveness and new starts to those who are trapped in shame – even if it is a cycle of behaviour that causes the shame (as opposed to a one-off ‘bad thing’). Jesus didn’t acquiesce to evil. He took the blows and whippings not as an abuse victim – with no choice – but with strength and purpose because by doing so he was rescuing creation. This is the key to understanding discipleship – that it is not a doormat lifestyle but an active one of working out in each moment and situation the loving thing to do. The world knows about this sort of behaviour and is used to it only when people are safe, with friends, family, those they trust. Yes, love is a good thing to do overall – when it is safe to give and receive. But what happens when there is evil, violence, selfishness, corruption and we are on the receiving end? Surely love gives way to one of two responses – fight or flight? Sort out the mess first we say. And then after the disturbance is sorted and there is more of an equilibrium again, we can return to Jesus’ words and love.

But that’s not what Jesus is telling his disciples. With him it is not about fight or flight – understandably focusing on ourselves and safety – but it is about others and serving them. And of course it is not easy! There are so many others to deal with!

And when the others are enemies – people who do us harm because it meets their needs and not because we have wronged them – then Jesus calls us to action. Discipleship is action; it is faith in action; it is behaviour in a relationship (with Jesus). And it is lunacy to the world and to ourselves when we stop and think about it. This is how we get ‘killed’ we think because the best way to deal with enemies is to make them afraid of us in some way.

Jesus says instead to do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse, pray for those who abuse, turn the other cheek to those who strike it, offer tunic as well as cloak to someone who is taking the cloak, and give to those who take your goods. So many words have been written here about how possible these behaviours are – and I’ll add very few words to the totality – but we must recognise the situation as 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.

Evil wants to enslave, humiliate, destroy, defeat, dehumanise and Jesus calls his disciples to resist. The enslavement, humiliation, destruction, defeat, and dehumanising will have a human face and Jesus promises to deliver us from evil which is often thought of as heaven after we die but also means helping us face evil each day. Discipleship is all about defying evil. Now we don’t like defiance when we are on the receiving end; when someone defies us; of course they are in the wrong we say and we want to come down hard on those who are defiant – so we understand what the world will do when we are defiant as we follow Jesus.

You hate me? Following Jesus, I choose to do you good not evil.
You curse me? Following Jesus, I choose to bless you.
You abuse me? Following Jesus, I choose to pray for you that you will see your evil and repent and follow Jesus.
You strike me? You humiliate me and want to dominate me? Following Jesus, I offer the other cheek and defy your attempt to dominate and humiliate me. Go your hardest against me but know this that I am your equal and not your property or punching bag. (The irony here, of course, is that you may well get struck again! But you will defy even that and in the further hits you receive the attacker is acknowledging you have power!)
You extort me and I’ll give you more back to show you your evil in public.

Discipleship in such contexts 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.

Discipleship as Jesus presented it is about resisting evil, being merciful, and treating others as you want to be treated. Judging and condemnation – in other words acting as judge, jury, and executioner in our relationships – acting as if one is God – is not how Jesus’ disciples are to act. Instead we are called to forgive and to do that we need to critically analyse, to discern what has happened, who is involved, so I know what sins have occurred and who should be involved in the forgiveness. Problems that recur again and again in relationships do so for various reasons and one of them can be a misdiagnosis in the first place of what the sin is and so the repentance and forgiveness then doesn’t seem to work – and little changes – just as the wrong medicine doesn’t cure the misdiagnosed malady.

What Jesus taught that day would have opened so many questions in people’s minds that they could go to Jesus for clarification. How often shall I forgive? What about divorce? What about false teaching? What does faithfulness look like? And Jesus clarified aspects of discipleship. It’s the same today as we study discipleship in detail in Confirmation, Bible Study, pastoral counselling, the mutual consolation of the brethren. Discipleship is behaviour and behaviour is determined by relationships and for us today Jesus meets us through words, water, bread and wine and does what he always does – comes and serves – so that we can learn to go out into the world and do the same – serve – with the strength and the confidence that comes from God’s love – after all, if God in Jesus is for us, who or what can be against us? And as we spend time in the proximity of Jesus so perhaps following Jesus becomes more and more what we seek to do each day.

Bible References

  • Luke 6:27 - 38