This blog provides a meditation on the Reformed Church daily readings along with a headline from world news:
GERMANY TRIES ONE OF THE LAST AUSCHWITZ GUARDS
Luke 6:27-38J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
27-28 “But I say to all of you who will listen to me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who treat you badly.
29a “As for the man who hits you on one cheek, offer him the other one as well!
29b-30 And if a man is taking away your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you, and when a man has taken what belongs to you, don’t demand it back.”
31 “Treat men exactly as you would like them to treat you.”
32-35 “If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that, And if you lend only to those from whom you hope to get your money back, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and expect to get their money back. No, you are to love your enemies and do good and lend without hope of return. Your reward will be wonderful and you will be sons of the most high. For he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked!
36 “You must be merciful, as your father in Heaven is merciful.”
37-38 “Don’t judge other people and you will not be judged yourselves. Don’t condemn and you will not be condemned. Make allowances for others and allowances will be made for you. Give and gifts will be given to you—yes, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For whatever measure you use with other people, will be used for you in turn.
In this section of his Gospel, Luke is no longer using Mark’s gospel as a source but another source of information which Matthew also used. Matthew makes it into his “sermon on the mount” directed to a crowd of people, whereas Luke places it on level ground directed to disciples. We can ask ourselves what our view of Jesus would be like if we had only Mark’s gospel, as must have been the case for some believers early in the history of the church. Perhaps the precious teachings of Jesus aways circulated by word of mouth. In any case we can note that in passages like the above we are faced with something fundamental to Christian faith.
The heart of the teaching is the generosity of God. We might not have noticed it had Jesus not in effect told us that creation itself, that is, the processes of nature, including the sunshine and the rain, are not earned by people’s good deeds but lavished on all, regardless of worth. This is a stunning interpretation of God’s goodness which in most religion is seen in the form of special, occasional blessings to those who have prayed well or lived well. Here Jesus interprets the universe itself as God’s goodness.
Disciples of Jesus are asked to show that same careless generosity in all situations, even the most difficult. They must show it to enemies, to bullies, and to thieves. Anyone can offer civility for civility, respect for respect, money for an expected return; but only those who know the generosity of God, will offer blessing for cursing, kindness for ill-treatment. Only they will consider it sufficient reward to be known as “sons of the most high” , the gracious God.
Although the teaching goes far beyond mutual back-scratching, it does point to a mysterious and undefined mutuality through which whatever the disciples put into life, they receive back in spades. The passive verbs used suggest that the One who gives this reward is God. Many disciples who have lived lives of exemplary generosity bear witness that the blessings they have received are much greater than those they have given.
This doctrine, of the utter impartiality of God’s goodness, which should be imitated by human beings, blows most religions and theologies, including many Christian ones, out of the water. It should be announced from the roof-tops in face of all the images of one kind of divine tyrant or another. As opposed to the miserable collection of prejudices and hatreds that characterises so many traditions of God, here is the terrible truth: God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
But hang on, Jimmy, some readers will be saying, isn’t your bible full of some pretty miserable prejudices and hatreds? Yes, it is, and that’s why all scripture must be interpreted in the light of Christ. Everything that claims to be Christian must be submitted to the approval of the Jesus who said the terrible words of this passage. Even many Christian believers fund this difficult, but once we tune our ears to the teaching of Jesus, we come to recognise it immediately. Here, we say, is “the royal law, here are lively oracles of God.”
But others will ask, “What use is a God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked?”