Summary of the Text
The context: Having addressed his disciples with the blessings and woes (6:20-26), Jesus now addresses the multitude of people (6:17, cf. 7:1). As with the blessings and woes, Luke records four imperatives in verses 27-28, which are expanded with concrete examples in 29-30; three of these are then given justification in verses 32-34. The final blessing and woe (vv. 22-23, 26) focus on being ostracized, or not, by the wider world, so Jesus’ transition to talking about enemies is a logical turn.
Love your enemies: “Love your friends and hate your enemies” was a well-known axiom in Jesus’ day and seems to be equally applied in ours. Verse 27-28 describe what enemies do: they hate, curse, and abuse. All of these behaviours reinforce a sense of belonging, social inclusion and exclusion. Anyone who has been to a sports game will have experienced the urge to hate, curse, and abuse the other team and their fans. Jesus refuses to allow his followers to define themselves by who they hate, or even create in-groups and out-groups: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
When he calls us to love our enemies (verses 27-28 are all in the plural), Jesus doesn’t have in mind that we should feel good about our enemies or work up what we call the emotion of love. He wants us to take practical steps to actively to do them good. Treat them with the generousity you would show a friend, pray for them, seek to do them favours and avoid retaliation. Deciding to act in love towards our enemies can liberate us from pretending that they are a friend or colleague – and turning to what Jesus calls his followers to do for our enemies.
Is love non-reciprocal? The idea that one should not avoid being struck on the cheek, but in fact turn the other is a teaching without parallel outside of the Gospels. While, in Jesus’ time as in ours, there were some who promoted the renunciation of retribution, Jesus calls us to go further. Turning the other cheek is active non-retaliation. It does not mean accepting abuse, but it does mean not returning like for like. It may be that turning the other cheek or giving the shirt as well as the cloak shames the one who is seizing. But it may also be that Jesus intends this teaching to detach his followers from our attachment to possessions [could link to the treatment of πτωχός in the previous study].
The only similar texts in the Old Testament are found in Isaiah 50:6 and Lamentations 3:28-30; in both of these passages the prophets direct the view of the one struck soley to God. Non-retaliation is not for the sake of the perpetrator of violence, or for the improvement of the world, but trains believers in looking to God (see also Psalm 37). From this viewpoint, the call to non-retaliation suddenly seems reciprocal after all. Jesus calls us to be merciful not as those around us are merciful, but as our Father is merciful. As Paul writes, “rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
The good measure of verse 38 describes how a generous employer would pay his field hands with the grain which they had just harvested, packing it into the worker’s bag, or if they are too poor to own a sack, into their tunic, held out to form a sack. If this is the generosity which God shows us, turning the other cheek is being conformed to God’s character (being “children of the Most High”) and reciprocates not other people’s actions towards us, but God’s. We find a similar teaching in narrative form in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35).
Breaking down barriers: As we saw above, the behaviours of hatred, cursing and abuse reinforce a sense of belonging, social inclusion and exclusion. Their positive pairings – doing good, blessing, praying – can also create group identity. We do good, bless, and pray for those who are ‘belong’ to the same group as us. Jesus refuses to allow his followers to be bound by such ins and outs. There is no “credit” (χάρις – literally “grace,” in this context perhaps “favour” or “thanks”) given by God for doing good to those who you can expect to return the favour (cf. 14:12-14; 6:24). The teaching in verses 32-35 shows us that love of enemies is not only individual, but communal. It connects with God’s exhortation to Israel to love the alien and foreigner (Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Leviticus 19:33-34) and the New Testament’s teaching that there is no division between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:28).
Jacob Traeger is a Church Planter and Mission Facilitator in Canberra, Australia with the Lutheran Church of Australia. He currently serves at Immanuel Woden Valley Lutheran Church. Jacob studied Jacob is passionate about equipping God’s people to live all of their lives out of their identity as children of God, as well as pointing those who don’t know God yet towards their creator and savior.
Jacob is married to Kate, whom he met while studying at university in Adelaide. They enjoy playing board games and hiking in Canberra’s bushland.
The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, 2012), 131.
Give to Everyone who Asks
I have had a certain acquaintance with a kind of holy poverty. My grandfather never kept anything that was worth giving away, or let us keep it, either, so my mother said. . . . He lacked patience for anything but the plainest interpretations of the starkest commandments, “To him who asks, give,” in particular. . . . He really would give anything away. My father would go looking for a box of nails and it would be gone.
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004), 31–32