Reading I: 1 Samuel 26: 2,7-9,12-13,22-23
Psalm: 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
“To you who hear I say…”
Whenever we hear a phrase like that in the Gospels it is a hint that we should prepare to hear a vision of the reign of God that makes us uncomfortable. It’s an invitation to see things with a perspective of God’s imperative to love – a radical kind of love in action.
“To you who hear I say… love your enemy.”
Jesus has just finished teaching the beatitudes to the crowd, to explain what it means to be a disciple. And then he goes into a list of “woes” – woe to you who are satisfied now, and woe to you who laugh now. It is after this teaching on blessings and woes that he begins his next teachings with the statement “To you who hear I say love your enemy.” It’s as if after all the blessings, which he assumed everyone was listening to, and then the woes, he wonders if anyone is left listening, ready to hear that next step of radical love.
What does it mean to love your enemy and do good to those who hate you? Sometimes this Gospel passage is a tough one to work with – especially if domestic violence or injustices of any kind are a part of your story – to hear that to love means to turn the other cheek or give more than is asked feels like a painful and unhelpful reality that has kept too many victims silent.
So, I’d like to push the picture a little broader. If we read this Gospel through the lens of those with power, we might be able to navigate a way to hear what Jesus is suggesting. Does the response of those around us cause us to consider the demands we place on others?
Martin Luther King, Jr. in his homily at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on November 17, 1957 notes, “Love has within it a redemptive power and there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.” He is speaking in the context of the civil rights movement and encouraging others to love those in power with God’s excessive love. “Love is the only creative and redemptive power in the universe.”
So, when we read this Gospel thinking of the redemptive and transformative power of radical love, we need to realize that the only person we can change is ourselves. To understand the redemptive power of radical love, we might need to put ourselves in the shoes of the one with power. We need to ask: If I demand a cloak from someone who has less than me, if I demand that someone carry my baggage for a while, what does it do to me when I see their response of radical love – their going above and beyond my demands?
In our first reading we have a hint – Saul is pursuing his son David, threatening him with armies of soldiers. David manages to get into Saul’s tent while he is sleeping and doesn’t harm him. He simply takes Saul’s sword and water jug. Then he heads back out to the hillside and calls out to the King and his army. He shows them that he could have hurt Saul, but he did not – he was excessive in his love, and Saul cries out, “I have sinned… surely I have acted like a fool.” Saul experiences shame at the excessive love of his son.
Can excessive love get us to consider how we have acted like fools? Can another’s love for us redeem us? We believe that to be the case when we talk of Jesus’ redemptive act of love for us. Does that love, or any act of radical love, cause us to rethink our choices – the demands we make of others? The demands we make of our earth? Jesus says in the Gospel, “Stop judging and you will not be judged, stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” We might add, “Stop demanding and you will not be in need.”
The last lines of the Gospel tell us that we should attempt to be as generous as possible when measuring another person, for the measure we use will be the one God uses for us. As Luke Timothy Johnson states in Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke, “Luke has Jesus demand of his followers a standard for human relationships that involves a ‘going beyond’ the norm of reciprocity…The ‘golden rule’… is not the ultimate norm here, but rather, ‘do as God would do.’”
This radical love in action, to “do as God would do” is a willingness to assess our relationships and positions of power, to recognize our privilege and the demands we extract from others. This radical love in action is a humble stance open to Christ’s redemptive action in our lives by noticing those who have shown us God’s excessive love. Look around. Who are those who have loved us with an excessive love, whose actions invite us to transform our own actions? Who or what have we as a society taken without counting the cost? Do we have eyes that can see?
To have eyes that can see or ears that can hear hints that the next phrase will flip us on our heads, make us uncomfortable, maybe even terrified, with a vision of the reign of God that has the power to transform us and the world. This transformation depends on how we respond and whether or not we’re still listening.
“To you who hear I say…”