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Wednesday, April 17th 2013


Love your Enemies! Part 2


So as to make sure that I won't have to cut off in the middle of the discussion, let me immediately return to the topic we began last night.

Luke Bible Study      

        Bible Reading:         Luke 6:27-36

v. 27-28:  But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (HCSB)

There had been rumors this afternoon that the FBI had made an arrest in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, but they turned out to be false. The feds appear to be holding most of their cards extremely close to their bullet proof vests, which is definitely the wise way to go. Premature reports, such as the rumors earlier today, could even be intentional disinformation in order to create a reaction that will provide a clue. The absence of knowledge on our part and the speculations of the news media are just what they are: ignorance and speculation, but they do not necessarily imply the same state on the part of the investigators. Still, in the meantime, since I'm not in that elite group, I am happy to refrain from any further assertions or guesses other than to say that for now, I don't expect the FBI to be candid and, on principle, we should not believe any terrorist group, whether they confirm or deny an accusation.

So, we have time to go back to our passage where Jesus announces a total reversal of values. As I said last night, we need to keep in mind exactly whom Jesus is addressing here with his exhortations. He is not advocating a state of anarchy in which the government gives up its standards of justice necessary to maintain a functioning community. He is speaking to individuals, who are following him, and maybe groups thereof, but the issues he cites are clearly personal ones. More specifically, Jesus is stipulating a large gap between those who are his, and those who are not, and he has already cited examples of the fact that the latter group can and will persecute the former.

      Take note—your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets. (v. 23) [Emphasis mine.]

Now, I wrote a few moments ago about a "reversal" of values. Jesus did not just say to endure the hostility, all the while maintaining a negative, resentful attitude. He was actually saying that we should proactively show love to those who hate us. Here are some of his specific points:

1. If someone smacks you on the cheek, offer him your other cheek to be smacked as well. I repeat, this is personal and has nothing to do with inviting terrorists to kill a few more people. Still, who does even the smaller, personal action Jesus is commanding here? Getting slapped is painful and humiliating, and what kind of a person would possibly, immediately react, not just by doing nothing, but by inviting the violent person to repeat his act. Not to do anything and just to hide your head could conceivably be construed as cowardice (though that's probably immature), but to deliberately leave yourself open to further mistreatment may appear to be really, really stupid, and it is certainly not the reaction of a coward.

The action of "turning the other cheek" clearly goes against all of our instincts. What would your reaction be (realizing that we haven't specified any further details)?

  • Would you simply protect yourself from further harm? -- Not a bad idea for starters.
  • Would you fight back and seek to hurt the other person in the same measure as you have just been hurt? -- I guess that would be what most people would try to do.
  • Would you decide that hostilities have been commenced and, therefore, anything you can do to hurt the other person, regardless of how intensive and extensive your actions may be, is legitimate? -- I'm afraid that a lot of people do not know where to stop when something untoward has been done to them. The gauntlet has been laid down, and a slap on the cheek justifies burning down the aggressor's house.
  • Would your first reaction be to turn your other cheek? -- I would think that only the Holy Spirit's direction can produce such a counter-intuitive response in us.

2. Do what is good to those who hate you. There's a phrase I've come across from time to time to the effect that we should help the "deserving poor." This term indicates that our charity is based on a certain amount of calculation. The "deserving poor" presumably are those who are truly in need, will profit by our gifts, show appropriate gratitude, and--if possible--seek ways of improving their own lot. Now, I don't think that Jesus was saying here that we should just throw money or goods around irrationally. In fact, Paul makes it clear that to provide for others while neglecting your own family shows that you are a pagan at heart (2 Tim. 5:8). Nevertheless, if you are doing something good for various people, and among those recipients is someone who really hates you and wants to hurt you: Don't exclude him or her!

3. Bless those who curse you! Many of us are not much into the idea of effective maledictions or benedictions, as people in other times and places have been. But at a minimum, they are symbols, and they are verbal expressions made between two people in each other's presence. So, while someone is expressing his desire for you to be run over by a steam roller, you are supposed to tell him sincerely that you shall pray for his paving business to prosper.

4. Lend your money to others and don't expect anything back. This was a special issue for the Jews due to the commandments in the Law never to charge another Israelite interest, as well as the provisions of the "Year of Jubilee," in which event all debts would be cancelled and land that had been lent out should be returned to the owner. But the principle (sorry about the pun) clearly goes further: Helping out others should not be based on the desire for material gain (or any other gain, for that matter) or have other strings attached.

Several times now, I've been privy to hearing and reading Islamic appeals to contribute to charity in times of disaster. Of course, Islam has built into its system the zakat, a carefully calculated amount of your personal profit that is collected annually for the poor. But then if, say, a typhoon has caused devastation in another part of the world, the local mosque will, just like your local church, try to raise extra money to help those who are affected by the problem. But here's a big difference: Chances are the church will collect the money and send it to wherever it will do the most good without checking what the religious affiliation of the recipients will be. In my experience, the mosque will state explicitly that their money will go to fellow-Muslims. That's what I would call big strings.

5. Do not equate love with reciprocity. I remember a speaker (though not his name) at a youth banquet (back when I was a youth) who started out his talk with a parody of a song featured in the movie "High Society" (MGM, 1956, also starring Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong). The number was performed by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly (later Princess of Monaco). You can see the segment on YouTube by clicking here. A part of the song, written by Cole Porter, goes:

While I give to you and you give to me
True love, true love.
So on and on it will always be
True love, true love.

The speaker suggested that a more proper rendition would be:

While I give to you and you give to me: Reciprocity, reciprocity.
So on and on it will always be: Reciprocity, reciprocity.

Giving back and forth, doing "this" for her while she does "that" for me, exchanging tit for tat, that's not love. That's merely holding an emotional flea market. Not having finished the movie, I can't tell you whether the Crosby and Kelly characters really loved each other, but what they exhibited on the sail boat does not qualify for real true love--"in sickness and in health," as some versions of the vow put it, "until death us do part."

Jesus said that anyone is capable of reciprocity. "Even sinners do that" (33). He expects more of his people than love defined in terms of an exchange of favors.

6. The Golden Rule. "Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them" (23). This idea of how people ought to relate to each other is so basic and profound that you're not going to have to search long in virtually any culture or religion to find something analogous. In fact, a quick search on Google revealed numerous websites that collected various versions thereof, not only among the world's religions, but also among many great philosophers. See, for example, this site, sponsored by TeachingValues.com. I find that fact totally unsurprising, and anyone who thought that somehow the uniqueness of Christianity lay in the Golden Rule, needs to rethink Jesus' mission on earth rather drastically. Some versions, such as the Confucian one, "Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you," are negative, and thus have been called the "silver rule," surely a pretty patronizing and unhelpful classification. Still, there's something wrong here. As the rule stands, yanked out of the context, it takes us back to where we thought we would no longer be, namely, living according to the standards of the rest of the world's population.

As seems to happen so often, I had no idea what was coming as I was working on this entry. I had already written the part above about not confusing love with reciprocity. As I clicked through several of these ecumenical interfaith golden/silver rule sites, the fourth or fifth one I glanced, provided by "religioustolerance.org" at was entitled:

Shared belief in the "Golden Rule"
(a/k.a. Ethics of Reciprocity)

How funny! Without realizing what they were contributing to this context, they were making my point. The ethics of the world (or of the inter-ecumenical-dialog-amalgamation societies of these days) can do no better than to wind up with reciprocity. Why can I make that almost accusatory statement with such confidence? Because, according to their own assertions, religions per se have failed to create a world according to their preference. In other words, they're trying to achieve something in the world without the essential help of the one who created it. The website begins with two quotes, one from the Dalai Lama, the other one anonymous, neither of which actually state the Golden rule, but we can leave that matter to the side. It makes it clear, though, that, in the light of the previous comments, there must be something different about what Jesus said than the other versions in other cultures because I'm quite sure Jesus was not advocating reciprocity. Reciprocity is ultimately the best the world can come up with; Jesus is exhorting us toward something more sacrificial.

7. God as our Model. Jesus points to God as the one whose pattern we should follow, not that of other people. "God is gracious to the ungrateful and evil" (35b). Please take a moment to let that sink in before the next time you take a ride on one of the popular bandwagons of condemnation. It is God's expectations that we should fulfill. To return to Jesus' version of the Golden Rule, ask yourself without reservation: What do you really want others to do for you? Be honest. What do you want, not what do you expect? What do you fantasize about how people should treat you? Do you want them to treat you like everyone else, dealing with you on the basis of a tit for a tat, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, interest and late charges? You may expect them to, but I bet that what you really want is for someone to say, "I forgive you." "Let's leave it be and go on from here." "I love you just as you are." "I'm doing this without expecting anything in return." That's what we really desire, I'm quite sure. That's how God deals with us, and that's how we should love other people, even our enemies. Nobody said it was going to be easy; I add that it is not even possible without God's supernatural work in us.

So, let's get back to the reality in the news. For purposes of this discussion, it really does not matter who was behind the bombing. Speaking as someone who was not a victim, the perpetrators must be caught and punished appropriately lest we make light of the harm they have done to the victims. Still, if it was a Muslim group, we should not, therefore, hate all Muslims. If it was someone representing the Society for the Supremacy of Bats, we should neither hate him, nor his fellow members, nor bats. A just society cannot overlook crimes, but a God-filled person can begin to show that in the long run, individual to individual, God's love overcomes human hate and indifference.

I picture the people in the crowd as rather confused by what Jesus was saying. They had no idea yet that God would, in fact, reconcile us to himself through Christ's death on the cross so that his love could start to shine through us as we allow him to.

[For a fresh update on the search for the bombers, click here.]

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