“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 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? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.
Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.
This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.
The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.
And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.
But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?
Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”
This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.
No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.
As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.
So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.
More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.
How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.
As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.