Theme(s): Love your enemies. Trust God to deal with your opponents. Be merciful. Resurrection life.
Sentence: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).
God of welcome,
we encounter you in those different from us;
enlarge the tent of our lives to embrace both friend and foe,
so that we grow to be more like you;
through Jesus, your image,
who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Who in the Bible lived out Jesus' command to love our enemies?
Answer: (among others) Joseph.
Joseph had no reason to love his dastardly brothers who had become jealous of him, lured him to destruction, only just been persuaded not to murder him and instead had "merely" sold him into slavery.
In our passage, towards the end of the story of re-acquaintance of Joseph and his brothers (itself a long story within the overall story of Joseph), Joseph demonstrates his love for his brothers.
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
The sentiments in these verses undergird (and lie in the background to) what Jesus says in our gospel passage.
Why might I love my enemies? Won't that mean they get away with their hatred of me and their ill-treatment of me?
No, says this psalm.
The Lord is in control: the Lord will look after you and the Lord will take out your enemies ("for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb" (2)).
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Paul continues his engagement with questions concerning the resurrection (of Christ, in particular; of the dead (all humanity), in general).
Here the central question being addressed is posed in verses 35: "... what kind of body ..." do the raised-from-the-dead have?
Effectively the remainder of the passage is a long, detailed, solidly argued case for a simple answer to the question: when we are raised from the dead, we will have a new body quite unlike the body we have been used to in this life, here on earth.
Moving on from the blessings and woes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus both questions what his audience already knows while stretching their horizons in the service of God: "But I say to you that listen" (27).
What then follows is familiar to us and that means we may not read this passage in a way which feels the extreme force of what Jesus is saying. There is nothing straightforward or easy about doing what Jesus says:
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (27-28)
Similarly when Jesus goes on in verse 29 - 30 to offer practical examples (particularly relevant within the culture of his day) of what this might mean.
Our natural tendency and the voice of contemporary culture makes us more likely to (say) avoid our enemies; call the police; ring a radio station and complain about how we are being treated; etc.
(i) Jesus is not talking about putting up with an abusive bully, whether in the family household or workplace or school yard. If any reader (or hearer of your sermon) is in that situation, help should be sought, not only to protect someone being abused now but also to prevent further abuse of others. Jesus is talking about how his followers should respond to (a) persecution and opposition for being a Christian; (b) everyday life in which we meet those who dislike us or compete against us or oppose what we do as we go about our daily business.
(ii) Some caution is required with an instruction such as "Give to everyone who begs from you" (30). There a genuine beggars and there are people who are out to defraud us (with examples being reported all too often in the papers). We need wisdom and discernment with a critical overriding instruction being: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (31).
Verses 32-36 then expand on the point Jesus is making in verses 27-31. It is not hard to love those who love us. I give you a birthday gift as part of a circular friendship in which you will give me a gift on my birthday. Everyone loves to be loved and thus loves those who love them in return. Followers of Jesus are being challenged to go beyond the norms of human social life. Love without expectation of anything in return. Love "enemies" - love those who are unloveable, love those who will not love you back. In doing so we will be rewarded (but, let's think of that reward in terms of an ever deepening experience of God's love for us) and we will truly belong to the God who is love (35).
In sum, for verses 27-36: be like God; God is merciful (loves God's enemies), so be merciful.
The final two verses continue in a similar vein, reworking what it means to be merciful: do not judge, do not condemn, forgive, give, give generously.
Again, some wisdom and discernment is needed: these verses do not mean that a Christian makes no judgement calls (e.g. that it would be better to marry X rather than Y; to go into business with A rather than B; to imprison a murderer rather than let the murderer be free to kill again). Rather we live in a way that others receive from us what we would like to receive ourselves (31).