I mentioned in an earlier post that I was working through some painful issues surrounding my “work life.” As I think through this issue, I take the familiar path in dealing with heart pain - name what is hurting so that I can bring it to Jesus and have a conversation with him about it. Involved in this process is thinking through what the end goal might be, what kind of person I might become on the other side. It was around this point that I came across Luke 6 in my daily reading in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31 ESV; all texts are ESV unless otherwise noted)
Several thoughts came out of reflection on this text. First, I noticed that Jesus uses terms and phrases to describe certain types of people that we’re all familiar with – “enemies, those who hate you, those who curse you and abuse you, etc.” This tells me that I need to take note how I’ve been wounded and by whom, in this case in my workplace experiences. I need to explore the events, memories, personalities and emotions involved. But thankfully, it doesn’t end there! In this text (and in the larger context of Luke 6) He is offering me a vision of life with Him in his Kingdom where I can freely and easily do the things he describes here – love, do good, bless and pray for those who have done evil to me. This vision of life in His Kingdom must also occupy my attention, increasingly as the process goes on (and it is a long process!)
It is so easy when attending to wounds to get caught up in lesser stories of vengeance and payback, isn’t it? Jesus offers us so much more. But I have to ask, do I really want this? Because if I do desire and seek to lean into this vision of life, then I will have to give something up, lose something. One thing I’ll lose is the “right” to vengeance, the right to repay evil for evil. The persons who injured me will likely never know or care and I lose the right to bring it to their awareness through like action. But if I look at what I gain - a life of love, freedom and joy – the bargain seems pretty lopsided indeed.
The second line of thought was this - What do you think was easier for Jesus to do? Love his enemies or hate them? Picture him on the cross. When he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) do you think that was easy for Jesus or difficult? Do you imagine the words came strained out of his heart, somehow forced out?
The answer to this question is huge. It will determine whether or not we believe the commands of Jesus to be easy or impossible. It will determine how you read the gospels and indeed, the entire Bible.
Some might say here that you’re talking about Jesus, the God-man; he had stuff going on that we don’t.
Did he? Let me ask another question, one that has rocked my world for several years now.
What did Jesus expect from his disciples, his earliest followers?
It seems pretty clear that Jesus expected his apprentices, his disciples to follow him in a certain way of life, something he called “eternal life” (John 3:15-16; 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40, 47, 54; 17:3). He expected his disciples to do the things he did and say the things he said, in his confident peaceful manner (Matt 7:21-27; 11:25-30; 28:18-20; Colossians 3:1-17; 2 Peter 1:3-11, Phil 2:12-13, etc.). Below are merely a sampling of verses regarding this.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Cf. Matt 10:24)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
1 John 5:2-3
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
We need to have the thought, that for a certain kind of person, loving an enemy and doing good to them is an easy task and light burden. For others, for a different kind of person, it is largely impossible, at the very least an arduous task requiring herculean effort.
The hard thing for Jesus to do on the cross would have been to say, “You idiots! What the hell do you think you’re doing?! I will make you pay, MARK MY WORDS!! YOU WILL BURN IN HELL!!” The easy, light way to live came out of him naturally at this time as at other times. He offered love, compassion and forgiveness to his cruelest enemies simply as a natural overflow of what was stored up in his heart from having walked with his Father in God’s good world. He could not have easily done otherwise.