Love Above and Beyond What Is Decent
The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Old Testament: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalter: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
O perfect Love, whose compassionate power transforms sin into health and temporal dust into eternal glory: grant us a gracious faith, so that like Joseph, when he was sold into slavery, we may face our trials with confidence, and become a blessing to friend and enemy alike in Jesus' name. Amen.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28)
“And Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him (Genesis 45:15).
For most of us, it is easy to love those who love us. Affection tends to elicit affection in return. When my neighbor who lives on one side of us helps me on a project in our yard, in return I assist him when he needs it. The neighbor on the other side, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s not that he is uncivil, but he his not overly kind either. He is more interested in being nosey over what I do with my yard instead of helping. When we see each other, we talk cordially, but neither one of us is anxiously waiting to assist the other. As I said, it is easy to love those who love us.
Along comes Jesus in Luke chapter 6 to rearrange my world on whom to love.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (6:23-33, 35).
Jesus is saying two things that rub me the wrong way. First, if I love those who love me, I have nothing to brag about. Second, loving my enemies is something Jesus commands me to do. It is not a suggestion.
Theologian Miroslav Volf states, “If you take the 'love your enemy' out of Christianity, you’ve ‘unChristianed’ the Christian faith.” In other words, love of enemy is not optional for the followers of Jesus; it is central to discipleship. The way of Christ in the world is lost if love of enemy is rejected.
One of the things that is necessary in reading the Bible is the willingness to accept Scripture in all of its difficulty and avoid the natural inclination to water it down and interpret it in such a way to make it palatable. Both Jesus and Paul say that the gospel is a scandal. That means that Scripture too can be scandalous. We must not work to remove the scandal from the Bible. When the Bible tells us to love our enemies, that is what it means.
I will be the first to admit that I do not always know what to do with such passages. I am not always sure what it means to love my enemy in every situation that comes upon me. But I must hear Jesus’ command in all of its difficulty and then ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to help me be obedient.
Jesus calls us to love above and beyond what is considered decent. If Jesus so loved the world that he died even for those who crucified him, we his followers can do no less. Surely, Jesus had that in mind when he told his disciples that if they wanted to follow him, they too must take up their crosses.
I do not know this day how I will travel that cruciform path, but I know I must; and I must walk in that way even while traveling this life with my neighbor next door.
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