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 ill-treat 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 the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
We have recently been studying the section of Luke’s gospel that equates to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. This is a much shorter passage of scripture, being much less than a chapter, compared with the 3 chapters of scripture in Matthew’s gospel. And, as we have already seen, there appears to be some different emphases in Luke’s version.
For this study, we are looking the second section of this Sermon, which has the heading “Love for enemies” in my NIV. This shows us some of the more radical nature of Jesus, and by this we have a closer comparison with the Sermon as recorded by Matthew.
It may be worth reminding ourselves how these two versions came to be recorded. The one in Matthew can be said to be a personal recollection of events, by a disciple and apostle appointed by Jesus. Matthew was one who sat close to Jesus and listened to his words personally. We do not know how many years passed between the time of the actual sermon and the writing of the gospel account, but we are all very aware of how memory and time and experience is affected by the passage of time.
But we also have faith, as Christians, that under the inspiration of God, through the Holy Spirit, there will have been the divine guidance to aid Matthew with his recollections.
Luke, on the other hand, did not have personal recollections because he was not alive at the time of the events. He was not even in the same country, and is the only gentile to have his works included in the canon of scripture. He is known as Luke the Evangelist, but was a respected scholar and physician. Being converted to Christianity, he made it his mission to make a thorough study of his new faith, and to write a record of the events that brought it into being. To this end, he interviewed as many as he could find who were witnesses to the actual events, and collected oral records before they could be forgotten or die out.
Our natural minds would tend to think that the gospel of Matthew, as a personal account, has more weight and accuracy. Yet Luke was also very diligent to interview, keep notes, make comparisons, and try to find the most accurate records possible. For this he was using the personal recollections of many people, and recording in the gospel the most repeated and verifiable record that he could collect. So, on the other hand, there is also an argument for saying that Luke’s account is of equal accuracy as that of Matthew. However, it is unavoidable to notice differences in events and in emphases in the recorded words of Jesus. Today gives us an example where the difference is not so great.
The first thing that can be noticed is that there seems to be a large section of the Sermon that is missing from this account. In Matthew, after the Beatitudes, we have the section about being salt and light in the world, and then the examples of how legalism and literalism will leave you far short of the standards required for entrance to the Kingdom.
After that we have the section where Jesus continues in the same way as the earlier verses saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” – and as with the earlier verses where he revealed the problems with legalism, he continued to reveal the problems with this Old Testament quote and the way it is put into practice. From there he enters into the equivalent teachings of what we read today in Luke.
The ultra-critical of the scriptures like to point at the differences as a way of devaluing the scriptures. I see it differently. There is only a problem if you have allowed yourself to be infected by the wrong understanding that comes from following the tradition of referring to the scriptures as the Word of God.
I have nothing against this tradition in itself, but this is a way of referring to the scriptures that I now personally avoid. Remember – this is only a tradition and there is nothing in the canon of scripture that requires us to refer to the scriptures in this way. However, the scriptures themselves – and especially the beginning of the gospel according to John, tells us what the title ‘Word of God’ actually refers to, and it is a person, not words on paper or papyrus or whatever medium.
The Word of God actually refers to the person of Jesus. But using this title for the whole of scripture can place subtle, and not so subtle, pressures on the way we think. First, it can have a unifying effect. The bible begins more and more to be felt to be one book, rather than what it actually is: a library. This is why it is called the ‘bible’ – which comes from the root word from which we get the word that means ‘library’ in many languages. For example, the French for ‘library’ is ‘bibliotheque.’And in English, a person who loves and collects books is known as a bibliophile.
The scriptures, in the Protestant bible, are a collection of 66 different forms of writing. And in the Catholic and Orthodox bibles you will find 70 texts. We know of many others, many of which are still reverenced in other Christian traditions, and others that were excluded following a council of bishops and scholars appointed by Emperor Constantine and who met at the council of Nicea. This same council drew together the first Christian catechism and creed. But interesting that their decisions had to have the approval of the Emperor, and that this man could intervene in the decision making, despite he was a new convert and despite that some historians feel that this emperor had a conversion of convenience, but remained more a follower of Mithras. So there were even problems in drawing together the books of what we now refer to as the bible.
The other problem with referring to the bible as the Word of God, is that it has the subtle effect of making us feel that each of the words of scripture are as if spoken by God himself – as if He is the author. But an honest reading of the scriptures themselves quickly shows us that this is not the case. We are told, in almost every case, who the authors of the books actually are. In the case of books such as Chronicles and Kings, these would have been the official scribes appointed at the time to record historical events for the government of the ruling Kings of Israel and Judah, and we are not supplied with their names. So we have the truth: that the scriptures are written by men (and it is suspected, in a couple of cases, by women). And you can not escape the fact that men are fallen and fallible beings.
Of course we have the verse that tells us that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. But this is very specific. The word ‘inspiration’ does not mean that God took over the body of the author and, through that body, personally wrote the words. The word ‘inspiration’ means exactly the same as when we ask a songwriter, for instance, in the present day what the inspiration was for a certain song that they wrote.
But it is this human aspect to the scriptures that lends so much weight to them, in my opinion. It is men trying to reveal their understanding of the interaction between God and men. To try to record historical events with this in mind. And to try to do it in a way that teaches all future generations something about God.
It is why a very conservative fundamentalist evangelical taught me, as a young man, that it is very dangerous to form any doctrine on one scripture alone. But where an idea is repeated in the scriptures, and especially where it is repeated in different books, then we have added weight to the words and have found something that is definitely worth teaching and listening to. And of course, this man was wise enough to teach me to read scriptures in context – because the true meaning is altered or distorted by removing the context.
And so today, we have words that are more or less the same in both Matthew and Luke’s accounts. And, although the account in Luke is shorter than that of Matthew, yet none of the ideas of this section is missing when comparing the two.
This, then, gives added emphasis to the radical idea and teaching from Jesus about loving our enemies, about being good to them and praying for them (and I would think it obvious that, if we are taught to be good to them, that the prayers for them would be for their blessing and not to bring them down. But of course we would also pray for them to be given wisdom and knowledge such that they would stop bad actions).
It also gives added emphasis to the generosity that is expected – to not ask for things back when property and money is taken. To not ask for repayment or compensation. In fact to do the very opposite of what is normal to everyone in the world today: to offer more! And without the expectation of anything in return.
What is this, Jesus? Are you being serious? Don’t you understand that you are asking us to be complete doormats to anyone and everyone?
If it was anyone other than Jesus, this would be our reaction, right? But these are the words of Jesus himself, and this is something we have repeated in the scriptures in more than one place. So this is important doctrine and part of what it means to live as a child of the Father. It is not an optional extra.
And, in the natural, this is scary.
We work hard to get money, to get possessions, to clothe ourselves and to feed ourselves. And we feel robbed if any of these things gets taken from us without permission. We feel cheated if someone borrows something or some money and does not return or repay. Yet Jesus said that we are not to pursue the return of things or to demand repayment. In fact he tells us to be prepared to offer more!
Am I the only one to react with a feeling that this is crazy? And then, having got over that shock, am I the only one to find this extremely hard and against my nature to put into practise? I suspect not…
But love your enemies, and not loving your money or possessions, this is the mark of the child of God. As it says in today’s text:
“Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
And of course, Jesus is very right to make this comparison. What was our state before God when he died for us? We were dead in our sins, and unacceptable in any way before the Father. We were worse than unclean, being in open rebellion. And in this ungrateful state, the mercy of God was shown to us in that wonderful outpouring of love from Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
I have no doubt that you, like me, need help and much more teaching from the Father to walk constantly in this teaching of today. The fact is that most churches, and most individuals in the churches, and even myself, are all in rebellion when it comes to fully living out this teaching of Jesus.
I am but a work in progress, much more needing to be achieved in me to become more like Jesus. But this is not an excuse for my lack, or the lack in the church in general, when it comes to living according to these words of Jesus. It is hard, and there is no getting away from it. It is totally contrary to our natural way of thinking and behaving. And yet, in this will be great reward.