(In Fitzroy we are journeying through Lent in the Travel Narratives of Luke (Chapters 9 to 19). We begin that journey on Monday so in these first few days I am going to draw out some thoughts from the first 9 chapters.)
READ LUKE 6: 27-36
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 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? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
For me, as a follower of Jesus, these are the most challenging words in the entire Gospels. For me, as a follower of Jesus who lives and ministers in Northern Ireland, they are the most relevant.
IF we are listening, the section begins. Well if we are, then we will hear that this is not optional. These are not words for discussion. It is not deluxe discipleship. It is for all of us. We need to forgive our enemy. Whoever “the other” is in our world.
In Northern Ireland we have been slow to love our enemies. Subjectively, it is difficult because we are wounded, with deep damage in our hearts and souls. Objectively, it is difficult because we have played theological gymnastics in our heads to lie to ourselves that we don’t need to forgive until “the other” repents on our terms and becomes like us.
That is not what we hear Jesus say, if we are listening. There are no pre conditions to loving our enemies. Indeed, Jesus stresses that there is no credit if we love those like us. The power of the life and death and resurrection of Christ will be revealed as a transcendent wonder of a thing when we do the opposite of our intuitive response.
Why? Where’s the substance for such mad following and loving? In the last line, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” As God loves us unconditionally, so we love our enemies. Grace, mercy incarnate. We can preach grace all we like BUT loving our enemies will speak louder and prove the words.
My friend Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile, who ministers in Guguletu on the Cape Flats of South Africa and knew the horrendous injustices of the apartheid era, once said to my students, “I get up every morning and thank God I am South African, black and a Christian… because every day I get the opportunity to love my enemies.” Wow! Now that is Christlike!
PONDER: This Lent, let us ask how we are following Jesus in forgiving those we are at enmity with. Also let us ask the Holy Spirit to search us deep down and uncover where we are playing gymnastics with God’s Word to avoid this uncomfortable obedience?