Today’s passage is Luke 6:27-49:
27 “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.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 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. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons ofthe Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 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.”
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Jesus, if I followed this, the world would be worse. Let me tell you why.
First, self-defense is needed to make sure the strong do not abuse the weak. And if I turn the other cheek, I could get seriously hurt. Second, if I give to everyone who begs, I will enable people who could otherwise work to, instead, beg for a living. Third, if I spend my energy doing for some specific other person what I’d like him to do for me, I’ll use up all my energy. Instead, I could have more efficiently divided my energies among many people.
Moreover, I do gain benefits from things you say don’t provide any benefits. When I lend to those who will pay me back, I gain the benefit of profit. When I help those who help me, I gain the benefit of friendships, professional relationships, and good reputation.
You say that if I love my enemies, lend to those who won’t pay me back, and do good to those who hurt me, I’ll be a “son of the Most High.” I’ll be more like God – that’s what I think you mean by “the Most High” and “the Father.” God is merciful, so if I’m merciful, I’ll be like God. That’s my reward. You must think the “benefits” I’ve described are small compared to this reward.
Are you right? Let me think about it.
Well, I’ve certainly come to believe that God is real and is someone I want to be close to. God, the creator of the sunrise, the snow. God, the one I believe I’ve met in song and prayer and the loving faces of others, the one who speaks to me. If showing mercy draws me into a closer relationship with this God, I’ll take it.
Still, my initial three objections concern me. But perhaps you have other purposes in mind. Perhaps bearing pain without self-defense sends a powerful message about God’s self-sacrificial love for those who do evil. And perhaps giving freely to others also displays God’s mercy on those who didn’t deserve it, people like me. Finally, I might be reading you a little too literally to think that I should give all my energy to every person, which would be impossible.
I can’t pretend that your commands make complete logical sense to me. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll be more intentional about putting others’ interests before my own, reflecting and praying daily about what that will mean. In addition, I admit that my biggest problem isn’t discernment about what your teaching means, but, rather, is having the will to follow through with what I know is right. Please grant me more of your Holy Spirit’s power to live this out.
Peter Hickman ’16 is an Applied Math concentrator in Leverett House. He is editor-in-chief emeritus of the Ichthus.