In the early 1980s, King Hussein of Jordan received word that seventy-five of his army officers were meeting in a barracks plotting a coup. The soldier giving the intel asked for permission to surround the barracks and arrest the men. King Hussein contemplated for a moment and then said, “No. Acquire a small helicopter and have me flown to the barracks.” A helicopter and pilot were promptly at his disposal. Hussein got in the helicopter and flew to the rooftop of the barracks. In helicopter there was only himself and the pilot. When they landed, Hussein told the pilot that if he heard gun fire, he was to take off immediately. Then he descended to the basement of the barracks and walked into the room where his men were busy plotting. He said, “Gentleman, it has come to my attention that you are seeking to set up a military run government. This will lead to many deaths and the end result will be a tyrant. I am here. Kill me so that there will only be one death this night and then proceed.” There was stunned silence and then they, as one, fell down before the King and claimed their devotion to him. He won with vulnerability. Not that this would always be the result. But it is a great story.
Luke 6:27-35 is sandwiched with the command “Love your enemies.” So, I’m guessing that is the theme. But Jesus doesn’t just throw this out there and let us grapple with it. He goes on and says, “Do good to those who hate you.” I guess he does want us to grapple. We are okay with loving our enemies if that means we don’t actively try to harm them, but doing good . . . Well, that is something else entirely. And blessing those who curse us? What in the world Jesus? Later on, the Jewish people will make cursing the followers of Jesus a regular part of their prayers; one of the eighteen benedictions. The response of Christ followers is to bless, praise, speak well of those cursers. And to pray for those who threaten. And if someone takes a step beyond a threat and actually strikes your cheek, why, you offer up your other cheek. And if someone takes away your outer garment? Heck, you make sure he gets your shirt as well. “Oh, hey, you are going take my cloak. Well, alrighty then, you might as well also have my shirt.” Does this feel uncomfortable to anyone else? One source stresses that this is about not allowing anything, your possession, your safety, your anything, to break up community. And yes, that makes sense, but there may be something else here as well. Maybe Jesus is giving his followers a way not to be controlled, owned, by others and by things.
And then in the middle of this you have the golden rule. “Do to others what you want men to do to you.” Notice Jesus’ statement takes the other person out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what they have done. If they have taken something of yours, you respond, thinking about how you want to be treated. You don’t want to be punched or stolen from, so you don’t do that to anyone else – even if they have done it to you. Man, this stuff is hard. And it seems as if Jesus himself didn’t live it. When he was hit during his trial, he did not offer up his other cheek. Instead he said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) Hmmm. Again, I say, this stuff is hard. Again, I think part of what Jesus is doing here is giving his followers freedom. The person who strikes you will not dictate your behavior. So, you offer up your other cheek, almost to say, “your abuse does not affect me, have a nice day.” But it is also about the golden rule and loving even your enemies. And at the trial, Jesus loved.
Then Jesus explains that he is calling them to live above what everyone else does. If you love those who love you, well, good job, but what are you doing different than any sinner? If you do good to those who do good to you how is that grace to you? Yeah, that one is a little hard to translate and most have “what credit is that to you?” Except the word Jesus used was “grace, thankfulness, favor.” How does this bring about favor? Any old sinner does this on the daily. So, love without expecting anything in return because that’s how God loves. And if you want to be a son of God, you kind of have to try to be like him.
This is about strengthening community; about loving with no demand of being loved back. But it is also about freedom that comes from this kind of love. God loves us. And we in turn can offer God nothing. And therefore, we cannot bind God to our silly manipulations. Be compassionate simply because God your father is compassionate. A love without expectations frees you from being dictated to with a slap or a theft or a curse. You are free to love, to bless, to pray for, to show mercy. Love your enemies! Grace, Walter