Redistributing Power through Enemy Love

Luke 6: 27 – 36

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Some would suggest that this particular passage is the most subversive of Jesus’ teaching. Here Jesus is not advocating an adjustment to a specific conflictual situation – rather, Jesus is seeking to change the power dynamics of the whole system that allows the powerful to become more powerful and the oppressed to become even more oppressed.

Jesus addresses this radical admonishment to those who have already been tracking and resonating with the teaching of blessing for those who lack power and resources and woe for those who refuse to share their power and resources.

So imagine, if you were listening to Jesus give this sermon and your heart had already been convicted that you need to relinquish fear and move to a place of sharing and generosity – perhaps taking the tangible step of living in solidarity with the oppressed. Now you hear Jesus saying, “Lend [to your enemies], expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). This flies in the face of how the powerful become more powerful! And beyond the literal economic implications, we can understand this as the call to not use our power to crush, exploit, or make life difficult for people with whom we disagree, differ, or are in conflict with. What would it look like if powerful, straight church people who have been taught and believe that LGBTQ+ people are somehow outside of God’s intentions and pose some sort of danger to the church and society-at-large, actually took this passage seriously? Even if their dangerous and damaging ideas and beliefs didn’t change, if they actually followed Jesus’ teaching they would focus on working for the good of LGBTQ+ people around them. Now that would be radical!

Or imagine listening to Jesus’ teaching, and your heart is singing with the sense of being seen, acknowledged, honoured and blessed. You are the one who is struggling, the one who feels someone’s heavy boot on your neck limiting your access to influence and resources. And you hear Jesus’ words to love your enemies – and you pause. The faces of those who have hurt you flash through your mind. They don’t deserve your love or compassion. And then you hear Jesus imploring you to be merciful as God is merciful. And perhaps you make a choice to simply be willing to be made willing to embody undeserved mercy. And maybe, just maybe, you feel something expand within you …. not with obligation nor begrudgingly but with power and freedom and blessing.

Sadly, I have seen this passage used to demand of LGBTQ+ people to love those who have abused them with no accountability, boundaries, or restitution. Powerful people don’t get to use this text as a club to batter those who have already been mistreated.

Rather, Jesus’ teaching is about our own hearts – and whether we are the ones with privilege or those pushed to the margins – when embraced this teaching will work for our good – bringing freedom from the smallness of our own need to dominate, exact revenge, or hurt those who have hurt us. While those feelings are so very human and so very understandable – such actions inevitably distance us from the deep communion with God, self, and other that we were created for.

Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies is radical enough that if actually lived would change everything!

Reflection Question:

  1. Who do you find hardest to show mercy to?

  2. In what ways have you experienced the liberation that comes with choosing mercy over vengeance?

Prayer:

We cannot fathom the depths of your mercy. In our blindness, our privilege, or our pain, we confess the smallness of our own hearts – the ways we want to lash out, scapegoat the other, and strut our own self-righteousness. As you enfold us in your forgiving love, give us a deep glimpse of the true freedom that comes with letting go and entrusting the other to you.  Amen.

This Lenten reflection accompanies the Tell Your Pastor #imaffirming initiative. To learn more click here.

#imaffirming #lent

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