Luke 6:27-38 | The Proper Mindset
What happens when the good guys aren’t so good, and the bad guys aren’t so bad? This question has given rise to a type of character in literature and film called the antihero. Most of the time, this character has been based on comic book characters who were normal everyday good guys (except for the super powers or super-secret military training or magical powers that haven’t been revealed yet) that have experienced some great tragic loss. Before the loss, they might have been law abiding, good natured, good hearted people. Now, they still have a moral compass, but it points north-ish instead of true north. They are willing to do things that are more or less good, but they go about it the way that the bad guy would.
One of the great examples of this comes from the Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western Trilogy centered on The Man with No Name. Portrayed with a great mix of conflict, bravado, and just plain malice by Clint Eastwood, The Man with No Name was summed up as a quiet, gruff, eccentric stranger with a strong but unorthodox sense of justice. He is usually wronged by someone or helping someone wronged by someone, but you don’t know it until the end of the story. He usually acts like a bad guy and in the process kills all the worse than bad guys.
When the movies were released back in the sixties, people loved it. The movies made Clint Eastwood a household name and he would go on to play other famous movie antiheroes like Luther Whitney in Absolute Power, Bill Munny in Unforgiven, and most famously, Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry series of films. The characters are not so much good guys as guys who sometimes do good things. And the general public loves it; to the tune of several billion dollars over his career as an actor, director, and producer.
I think there is something in the antihero that speaks to our desire to get even with the people who have wronged us. Stop for a minute. Think about a person who treated you horribly. No think about how you feel right now. Are you uncomfortable? Afraid? Angry? We all have these feelings from time to time, sometimes fleeting – there for a moment and then gone, but sometimes they are deeper, more pain filled, and more difficult to let go of. And knowing that makes this week’s sermon all the more difficult for some of us to swallow.
As Jesus continues his teaching on the level place, he tells us something unexpected, yet again. Jesus says simply, Love your enemies. The words literally translate to cherish and show great affection for those who act with hostility toward you. So, practically what are we talking about here?
Attitude. How do you view the person that you think is or has declared themselves your enemy or the person acting with emotional or physical hostility toward you? How do you respond to them? Jesus goes on to give us an idea of that. Not only are we given the commandment – and it is a commandment written in the imperative sense – but we are given examples for how to live into that:
- Do good to those who hate you.
- Bless those who curse you.
- Pray for those who abuse you.
- If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.
- Anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
- Give to everyone who begs from you.
- If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
- Do to others as you would have them do to you.
In short, where someone acts with hatred, malice, and abuse toward you, repay them in kindness. Jesus goes on to make the distinction between doing these things for those we love, are on good terms with, or just don’t know and those with whom we have a conflict with. He says that if we offer this kind of love to those who already love and relate to us, we have fallen short of the goal. Jesus says that sinners, those who are not in fellowship with God or God’s people, have the capacity to do that. If they can act that way and be out of fellowship with God, then followers of Jesus should certainly act that way.
I have, however, heard people ask questions about this passage like Does this mean spouses should let themselves or their children be abused? Should we let people steal from us? Do we let others take advantage of us? I think these questions speak to the heart of certain ideas regarding personal pride. The idea behind these questions is the fear that those people who might take advantage of us will find out that we are pushovers and continue to do so. This passage is not a call to hurting ourselves by allowing others to take advantage of us or hurt us. I don’t think Jesus is saying that.
In Luke 14:26-33, Jesus addresses a crowd of people who have been following him,
26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
You’ll notice Jesus using an exaggeration here to show the people that following him has a cost to it. In the last verse, that cost is defines as a willingness to give up all of your possessions. In the same way Jesus uses an exaggeration in Luke 14, he also uses something similar in the passage we read today. There is a twofold message threaded through the passage in Luke 6: Love your enemies and show mercy to the ungrateful and wicked as God has done.
When you strip away the time sensitive examples that are used in the passage, you see underneath them this idea of cherishing and showing great affection for those who act with hostility toward you. The point is not to follow the list as a specific set of literalistic rules but to see the heart of the discussion that loving your enemy rather than fighting your enemy is the way of Jesus and shows the mercy of God to those who most likely need to see it most. It is in seeing people as God sees them that we can truly act as disciples in their presence and call them to a discipleship that has meaning.
So, Jesus presents this as a choice for you as a disciple. You can choose the way of the world and retaliate in anger and hatred toward the anger and hatred directed at us or we can respond with love, grace, and mercy and dispel the hatred, making a friend of an enemy.
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew – The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
Hare, Douglas R.A. Matthew – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009