Jesus is addressing each one of us when he says: ‘To you who hear I say.’ Do we really hear him?
We wish it were not so, but the truth is that there is a constant tension between our ideals and reality. Reality often seems greater than our ideals. It keeps getting in the way. Reality, as we experience it, has a way of showing us that practicing what we preach is no easy task. It reveals our weaknesses to us, often in the midst of our pride. It humbles us. This does not mean that our ideals are not real. They are. Quite often they are noble goals. Too often, though, they fall short of our natural nobility as beings made in the image and likeness of God. This thing we experience as ‘reality’ keeps challenging us with the fact that we live at the center of a paradox. On the one hand, we can see the way things ought to be and we naturally desire the ideal with all of our heart, mind and soul. But we are weak. We fall before the power of our fears more often than we want to admit. Yet, as Christians, because of our faith and God’s grace, we are able to live in the harsh realm of reality with hope. We can, even in our weakness, have the courage to stay the course in our efforts to reach for the ideals that God has revealed to us in the Scriptures and in the life of Christ. It is our relationship to God that gives us the confidence, even in our weakness, to carry on, always keeping our eyes on those ideals. That is why we can read a passage like this one from Luke’s Gospel and not be shocked by its intent. We realize, in faith, that it reveals to us a reality far greater than the one we experience every day. Jesus is challenging us again to live out of the infinite dignity that God created us in. Jesus is addressing each one of us when he says: ‘To you who hear I say.” Do we really hear him? That is the question we must all confront interiorly here.
“Jesus told the disciples: ‘To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.” (Luke 6: 27-30)
This message flies directly into the face of the ‘real’ world. The real world is full of enemies, small and large, subtle and not so subtle. Hatred courses through the violent realities of the world like a molten fire, destroying the innocent in its wake with impunity. There are those who curse others simply because they are of a different race, religion or culture, and stories abound about the cruelties and mistreatment of people that arise from these hatred. We see this on the evening news, or read it in our newspapers everyday. But we experience it in our own private lives too. The truth is that every one of us is capable of being either the perpetrator, or the victim of these things. We are all guilty of such things, or have suffered such things, at one time or another on a personal level or even on a communal level.
As Christian believers, we know that God is the only source of all that is really good, true and beautiful. In the life of Christ we see the nature of God revealed in the flesh. In Jesus we see a Reality that supersedes the reality of the world. Jesus’ words here challenge us to see that the world’s ways are a distortion of the reality that we are made for as beings made in the image and likeness of God. The hatreds and cruelties of the world represent our failures to live up the the reality of our natural human dignity. With these words, Jesus is challenging us back to our truest, most real nature. He did not just preach these ideas; he lived them fully. He had enemies, yet he loved them enough to forgive them and challenge them to turn from their ways. From the cross, he said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23: 34) In these words, Jesus is reiterating the ancient wisdom of God, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6: 31) What could be a more real source for peace in the world than that? Why do we fail to live out of this reality so often? As Christians we know that it is because we are sinners, one and all. But we also know, as Christians, that we are redeemed sinners, and in that reality, Jesus calls on us to love others as he loved us. (John 13: 34)
God calls every Christian believer to be Christ in the world today. He has shown us a way to do that in this passage. Imagine what the world could be like, if the majority of Christians in the world today, actually lived out of this truth. If the majority of Christians began living this way, loving, doing good to, and praying for our enemies, humbly assenting to God’s will in doing so, would not God’s grace be made manifest in everything we did? And, ‘With God on our side, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31) Would this not bring others to Christ more effectively than all of our preaching?
Lord, help us to ‘hear’ your reality in these words. Give us the graces we need to live these words in our daily lives with one another. While we pray for peace with earnest hearts, help us also to be that peace in our words and deeds every day. We believe; help our unbelief. We ask with humble hearts that you walk with us each day for the reality of the fallen world is harsh and frightening. We ask all of this in your name, Jesus. Amen.
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