“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
(Luke 6:27-38 ESV)
This is the core of Jesus’ ethics. He teaches clearly on non-violence, love, theft, social responsibility, credit and lending practices, godliness, mercy, judgment, and by implication, the death penalty.
The problem with all of this teaching is that very, very few Christians, and even fewer people in the world around us believe that Jesus’ ethics are doable. That is why we reduce the whole teaching to “The Golden Rule.” What we are really doing when we invoke that bit is pretending we’re speaking to our children. We’re saying, “Now be a good boy. Be a good girl. Play nice with the other children.” After all, who can argue with “nice?”
The problem is that Jesus isn’t just telling us to be nice. The teaching sounds wholly impractical when we also tell people, “of course, you have to live in the real world. There are baddies out there, and you don’t want the baddies to get you. You have to know how to defend yourself.” The moment we take that stance, our faith is finished and we have denied that we even know Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t call us out of the world, to live in Bible City somewhere, safe from all the baddies. Quite the opposite. He calls us into the world, to be fully engaged. And yet he calls us to engage with the world in a way that demonstrates to the world the truth that God’s ways are different from the world’s ways.
Our response to violence done against us, Jesus says, is to be service. I know how jarring this sounds. Jesus gives us four practical things to do about those who hate, berate, use, or abuse us. He tells us our response should be to love, to do good, to bless, and to pray for them.
Let’s up the ante and use an actual situation. Does Jesus really mean that Mark and Gabrielle Giffords should be working on a plan to love, serve, bless, and pray for Jared Loughner?
The Giffords only have two choices as they move forward in life, with respect to the mentally ill young man who shot the Congresswoman. Their first response can be to seek “justice” and see that this kid “gets what he deserves” and is locked behind bars for the rest of his natural life or that he fries in the electric chair or dies by lethal injection because only then will the score be even. Of course, if they do that, it won’t bring back the part of Rep. Giffords brain that was taken from her. It won’t restore the lives of those who died that day. It also won’t actually settle anything between The Giffords and Jared Loughner. It will, however, produce a life-long bitterness over what happened. The quest becomes retribution, not restoration.
The other response, the much harder one to do, is to wrestle out with God what has been done to you or taken from you. You won’t get it back, in any case. But ask the question, what good will come from seeing to it that Jared Loughner never sees the light of day again? Will he serve jail time? Of course. Our criminal “justice” system will see to that, with or without help from The Giffords. But imagine the effect it might have on young Jared if The Giffords started visiting him periodically, or sent cards to him in prison, or reached out in forgiveness one day when the Lord had worked in them to the point they were able to do it genuinely. I was not wounded. I didn’t have my marriage, my family life, my memories, and my career interrupted or perhaps destroyed by a deranged young man. I cannot tell you exactly how difficult what I am proposing is. But I do know it would take direct intervention by God for most people to serve and love someone who had done such a monstrous thing to them. But imagine the effect it might have on The Giffords if they began to work toward that kind of reconciliation and restoration.
The reason Jesus begins the passage by saying, “But I say to you who hear,” is that, far more than any other piece of Jesus’ teaching, this grates on our ears.
I cannot convince you that Jesus meant what he said or that he intended to lay out a pattern for us who believe him. I can’t convince you that this is truly the godly thing to do. But either Jesus meant what he said and backed his sayings up with his life and work, or he didn’t. And either he intended for those who follow him to do the same, or he didn’t. You have to choose for yourself, and pray that God will keep you in such a place with him that when you are faced with such terrible decisions as The Giffords are, that he will enable you to do unto others as Jesus has done unto you.