Life in the Ancient World could be described quite straightforward: you loved your friends, and you hated your enemies. Such an attitude was widespread. It was how society expected you to behave, it was considered normal. So when we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we are faced with teaching that is profoundly counter-cultural:

‘Jesus said to his disciples, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ (Lk 6:27-28)

At the heart of Christianity is a radical idea: love your enemies. To love one’s enemies seems counter-intuitive. Our enemies want to harm us. We should resist them, we should crush them. No, we are to love them! We do this because love is the heart of the Gospel. God loves us and God is born as one of us in order to transform us, by His Grace. Jesus dies on the Cross for love of us, that we might be healed and reconciled. Love has the power to end conflict. This is what Jesus shows us. He ends the enmity between God and humanity by dying for us. As Christians we are to follow Christ’s example and put love into practice in our lives. Jesus asks us to follow His example, living lives which are radically distinct from the ways of the world.

Jesus calls us to live differently and provides us with an example of how to put the theory into practice. He also continues to teach what God expects of us in terms of generous love:

‘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. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.’ (Lk 6:29-31)

The generosity Jesus expects of His followers is exacting. We are told not to react to violence with violence, to give away what we have, and to treat others as we would wish to be treated, the so-called Golden Rule. 

The world around us is not good at forgiveness, or turning the other cheek. It prefers to write people off than to admit the possibility of change: that’s how they are, and that’s how they’re going to stay. In showing forgiveness and generosity we recognise the fact that we are human, that we are flawed, and that we make mistakes. Change is possible; things do not have to stay the same. Everyone loves those who love them. The point is in loving those who do not love us, so that they become lovely to us, and loveable in themselves. Only love can transform what is filled with hate and anger. Love and generosity are how God in Christ shows humanity how to live. Jesus’ life and death demonstrate what love in action means.

Jesus then reiterates His teaching:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6:35-36)

There is a paradoxical quality to what Jesus expects of us. We are to expect nothing, and yet we will receive everything. God’s love and mercy are to be experienced rather than understood. The Kingdom of God exists to restore and reconcile humanity, and not to make sense. We can be merciful because God has shown us mercy, and continues so to do. The transforming power of God’s love and mercy is shown fully in the Mystery of the Eucharist, where we are fed by God and fed with God, so that His Love might transform us. This is generosity, shown to us so that we might be generous in return. Through God’s generosity we have the opportunity to live in a different way, and encourage others to do the same. It offers the world a way out of selfishness and sin, a chance to be God’s people living life in all its fulness.

As well as being non-violent and generous, Jesus calls us to be non-judgemental:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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.” (Lk 6:37-38)

If we want God to be loving and merciful towards us, then we need to demonstrate in our lives that we are living the way God wants us to live. What Jesus proposes is something costly and difficult, which requires us to go against the human instincts which lead us to be selfish, judgmental and unkind. But if we all try to follow this teaching together we will be built up as a community of loving generosity, which makes the Kingdom a reality.

Each of us, on our own, is not able to do this. Even as a Christian community we will struggle. But if we trust God to be at work in us, with His Grace perfecting our nature, then it becomes a possibility. God asks the impossible of us, not so that we will fail, but so that we rely upon God to bring this miracle to pass. 

When we are formed by God together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. We proclaim God’s love and truth to the world, through forgiveness and sacrificial love. Clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God’s love and mercy, let us come to Him. Let us be fed by Him, be fed with Him, and be healed and restored by Him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of His kingdom. So that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

James Tissot – Jesus teaches the People by the Sea (Brooklyn Museum)

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