by Linda Ryan
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ — Luke 6:35-38 (Gospel from the commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary)
There are times when a reading assigned for a given day just doesn’t seem to have a lot of commonality with what’s going on in the world or in my life. It’s a struggle to try and figure out what the lesson is supposed to mean, and then applying it to daily life that I try to live. And then there are days like this where I find the reading from Luke. Given the recent events that have been going on in the country and in the world, this one seems to cut almost too close to the bone to be comfortable. Comfortable? Jesus probably didn’t intend for there to be any comfort in that, because it is a tough lesson.
Starting at the very beginning, “Love your enemies,” honestly is like being hit with a baseball bat. Unfortunately, a lot of people are being hit with baseball bats, and bullets, and punches, and gunfire, and graffiti, and racial slurs, and 100 other things that are becoming more and more common with every passing day. The people who commit those crimes? Love the people who delight in hurting other people? Surely Jesus didn’t mean to love those people. Honestly, it’s almost un-human to even suggest such a thing. But, un-human or not, Jesus said it, so I am supposed to try to live to it.
The next paragraph is almost harder to do than the first. One can love abstractly, I think, but the condemnation? That is an entirely different kettle of fish. Are we supposed to love someone who abuses children, or commits atrocities against those who are poor, or defenseless? Are we supposed to love people who seem to reflect everything that we don’t believe in, that we feel is wrong, or that is hurtful to others? What does Jesus mean when he tells us not to condemn, not to judge? How can we do that, because every day we judge and condemn things and we feel justified in doing so.
Honestly, this passage is like a burr under my saddle blanket. I know I’m supposed to do one thing and not do another, and yet it’s so hard not to reverse them. It’s not that I hate the people who are causing so much pain and distress, it’s the acts that they commit and the harsh and hateful words they toss about. Do not condemn their actions of hate and disrespect? Do not condemn the acts that harm others? Is that what Jesus wanted us to do?
Sometimes I wish I had never heard this passage. It’s too hard; it’s asking too much. It’s asking us to be like Jesus himself, and Lord knows, that’s not an easy act to follow. Jesus didn’t condemn the people who hung him on the cross, but he certainly had a few things to say about them when he was walking on the earth
Sometimes he was downright scornful, and sometimes more than a little rude. We don’t emphasize that a whole lot, because we look at this paragraph and we’re supposed to love and not condemn. Jesus did. He condemned those who tried to get the best of others using power and privilege and position. We would rather think about gentle Jesus meek and mild, holding up little children and healing people who were not even Jewish. He did have some judgmental things to say to those who didn’t understand the difference between obeying God and caring for others.
This week it’s going to be hard to try and love some people. Honestly, I can’t say that I will ever love them. I just can’t. What they do is against every Christian belief that I have, and I just can’t let that go. So am I going to do? That’s very good question. It’s probably going to take more than a week for me to sit down and figure this one out. Still, I have to pay attention to the lesson, and I have to try to understand what it’s trying to teach me.
In the meantime, I wish all the people of the world, not just this country, would be kind to each other and let us all catch our breaths while we try to figure out how to do the best we can with what we are given, and how to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth and which is so sorely needed.