Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 20, 2022
Luke 6:27-38 Commentary
Last week, I began the argument that Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount), is an invitation to understanding one’s identity as a disciple based on connection with Jesus. In verses 17-26, Jesus talks about being blessed when we are transformed—and thereby have our life situations transformed—by this connection, as well as warns against being only connected to one’s self (the woes). Jesus is said to be speaking directly to his disciples (v. 20), but disciples and non-disciples alike are listening in as he speaks from among a mixed crowd.
We haven’t left this setting. The lectionary text is continuing Jesus’ sermon, and he is still speaking about a life transformed by connection to him, and an identity shaped for discipleship. In verse 26, Jesus spoke of being negatively identified with false prophets, and now says, “But I say to you that listen…” His invitation continues, and as we see in verses 35 and 36, it continues to be based upon a connection with God.
Last week, we thought of this connection in terms of what we receive. This week we think of what this connection means about what we give. In this section of his sermon, Jesus upends our usual ethical motivation for doing good: reciprocity. Don’t get me wrong, reciprocity still plays a significant motivating role in how we conduct ourselves. As the Golden Rule outlines, we certainly do treat others as we would hope to receive from them if “the shoe was on the other foot.” (verse 31)
But, as the text outlines, the common form of reciprocity is actually motivated by gain: loving those who love, lending to those whom you will later be able to borrow from, doing good to those who you know do good… everyone does this (v. 32-34) because we’ve all got our eyes on how we might benefit down the road.
But this sort of reciprocity doesn’t quite work for the situations described by Jesus in the preceding verses. If that were the case, we’d have to be okay with being abusers, and haters, beggars, cursers and thieves. Those aren’t the sort of goals that disciples of Christ have on their to-do lists. We know that doing these sorts of awful things indicate a bigger issue “wrong” inside of us. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said about hatred: “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity.”
Instead of thinking applying first the framework reciprocity, we look to the same message as before: our connection and unity with Christ. We find it in verse 35 and 36: we are children of the Most High God, our Father is merciful and we are told to be merciful just like him. Verses 37 and 38 reorient the sense of reciprocity as an outflow of connection described as mercy (undeserved action). We make our connection clear by treating others as our Merciful Father has treated us, or how we want him to treat us. Mixing the commands with the subjunctive (the subjunctive is used to describe the possible results of carrying out the preceding clause), Jesus underscores that we are communicating not only to others how we want to be treated, we are communicating that same message to God as well. Further, we are doing so in response to his communication of mercy and love, to his promises of blessing and reward. In another place in the gospel, Jesus presents this reciprocity as what you do to the least of these, you do to me (Mat. 25.40), but here, he adds the description of filling our lives (verse 38) with blessing through our actions towards others.
Using the imagery of weighing and measuring, we all hope to get more than we deserve, and God truly does that (see the blessings section from last week). But the image also implies that along with God filling our “bag,” we add to it ourselves with our acts of love and kindness. In this too, we mirror our merciful God, whose abundance of grace and goodness overflows unbounded; it is part of his glory to fill all things, and it is the way of God’s delight.
Back in 1881, Charles H. Spurgeon preached a sermon on this text entitled “The Heroic in Christianity.” Drawing upon the whole gospel of Luke, but thinking specifically about the life of discipleship depicted in our passage for this week, Spurgeon describes Jesus as calling us to exhibit heroics: of lavishing kindness; of being extraordinarily gentle, peaceable, and meek; of having our joy found in God; of fearlessness and a willingness to endure in hard times; of true humility and delighting in serving others; and of living with faith and servitude. This, according to Spurgeon, is what it means for us to be set apart as God’s people, what makes us different from the rest of the world.
Something is heroic when it rises above and beyond what most humans think themselves capable of, and what Jesus describes here in Luke 6 definitely fits the bill. But what Jesus is preaching to his disciples is that they, that we, are capable of it because we have not only our identity, but our power from him. Even now, Christ has promised his Spirit to the children of the Merciful Father. Through being heroic, or more accurately, through being Christlike, we can shock and rock and be part of the transformation the world, its systems and people.
Verses 27-30 are structured as a command (an imperative) to disciples to do something good to people who are described with negative adjectival participles. Like last week, we pause here to remind ourselves that this isn’t Jesus telling us we must endure these things—or even willingly choose and force ourselves to pursue such situations. Instead, he’s painting a picture of what a discipling identity focused on mirroring God’s mercy in the world would look like. I take a fair amount of comfort that the “you” is plural. Not only are we commanded together to do these good, hard things, but we endure suffering from the hands of others together. In other words, I can’t tell someone else that their suffering is what they must endure: I am commanded to join them in it—the suffering and the love.
It’s also worth noting that though the commands feel very specific and quasi-reciprocal, there is a lot of room for how we be obedient to them. I might turn the other cheek to a person’s attack, for instance, but in the future, I might seek to avoid places where I know such danger looms. Or, I can pray (or enlist the prayers of others) for my abuser, and still choose to leave the relationship.
In the opening of her sermon on this text, Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad describes getting into an argument with a church sign while on a drive one day. The sign said: “Following Jesus is Loving and Practical.” Lundblad had no issue with the first part, it was the “practical” quality that raised her ire. Practical? In this world? Following Jesus is anything but, she thought. Practical results that lead to worldly success seems a far cry from the life of discipleship. But with Luke 6, Lundblad discusses how the descriptor “practical” can also be applied to the action, without thought of the “results.” In this sense, practical carries a quality of ordinary, or everyday-ness, quotidian. So yes, being a disciple is loving and practical after all.
It’s a bit like this Ikea commercial, which somewhat comically depicts our furniture and fixtures as “everyday heroes” who go mostly unrecognized and underappreciated for simply doing what they are supposed to do. Though we know that our Christlike response will be noticed, it is simply and matter-of-factly, what disciples do, day in and day out. Our heroism ought not be so extraordinary if we truly believe in and rest upon Christ and his love.
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