At the very heart of the kingdom message of Jesus is a call to radical love that will not easily go away under convenient readings of the text, readings that fit comfortably with our way of treating people in a modern “Christendom” culture.
We encounter this radical teaching in many parts of the Gospels but no text has redefined my life and actions, time and time again, quite like what I have read in Luke 6. Here is the portion of the sixth chapter that I wish to draw your attention to today:
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.
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. 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.
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.”
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (NRSV).
N. T. Wright says of this text:
The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Think of the best things you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead (Luke for Everyone, 73).
The instructions (ethics) that we read here have what Wright calls “a springlike quality.” They burst out energetically, like the flowers growing in my yard this spring day.
There are mistaken ways to read these types of texts. On one hand we can read them as Jesus giving his followers a “new rule-book,” a list of do’s and don’ts. If this were true then we could sit back and assume “I’ve had a good day since I’ve done what Jesus required of me.” On the other hand we can overly spiritualize texts like these and miss how powerfully they actually intersect with where we really live day-by-day. The point seems to be that if we follow Jesus we will have a lightness of spirit in the face of everyday life. You and I should be like this precisely because this is what God is like. This is the way he treats people day after day after day. We have experienced this extravagant love as Christ-followers thus we are to become “like” our Father in heaven. Such texts reveal his generous, lavish love and encourage us to walk in the ways of our God by the Spirit.
I believe Tom Wright is correct when he concludes: “Only when people discover that this is the sort of God they are dealing with will they have any chance of making this way of life their own” (Luke for Everyone, 74). This list is really about which God you actually believe in. Is he a generous, lavish God of grace? If so then he calls you to be like him. But much Christianity seems so gloomy and reserved, cautious and rigid, in comparison to words like these. We hold back and then wonder if we should really do this or that extravagant thing that we sense just might be the right action to take under the circumstances. The problem is that we lack faith to truly be like God!
Imagine what would happen if some Christians took life in this way. What if we were so generous with others–in both the way that we treated them and how we shared with them–that they saw us as people whose property and possessions did not define their lives? Our homes and bank accounts would not be as important as our neighbors. Wright suggests that if a few people lived like this “life would be exuberant, different, astonishing. People would stare” (Luke for Everyone, 74).
This has to be correct. When Jesus lived this way people took notice and stared. Crowds gathered and followed. His whole life was one of exuberant generosity because he revealed the extravagant love of his Father. His call to us is to live this same lavish lifestyle today. Jesus didn’t reserve this love just for his friends. He even loved his enemies in this same generous way. He wept over the city of Jerusalem that rejected his plea for peace. Are we not called to follow him into the world living out, by the Spirit, the same kind of radical love and generosity?