“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text for today is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain that we started listening to last week that began with blessings and woes. In the fourth of those blessings, Jesus alerts His disciples to the fact that they will be hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned for following Him (Luke 6:22). A person who experiences such treatment might be tempted to respond in kind. Jesus, however, commands an altogether different kind of behavior, one totally unexpected in this world. He says to His disciples: “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27).
This is a call to action, not just emotion, for to love one’s enemies requires an unnatural act of the will. Your enemies are those who hate you and persecute you, which Jesus pictures as an inevitable consequence of being part of His Kingdom in this fallen world. Christians are to love all who persecute them.
Such love expresses itself in action. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). In the assembly of the baptized, this will take place liturgically as persecuted Christians bless those who curse them and offer petitions for those who insult them. Liturgies from the early church included prayers of blessing and petitions offered for heretics, schismatics, Jews, and pagans. Such prayer shows how the Church loves all, even her enemies, as she stands in the presence of God and petitions the Father.
As individuals, we also show love for our persecutor. Not only are we prohibited from retaliation, but we do the opposite of our natural reaction: we offer the other cheek. If someone takes your cloak, give him your tunic, too. If someone takes your property, don’t demand it back. As disciples of Jesus, we must be prepared to be treated violently and stripped of our clothes and material goods.
Is Jesus being serious? Can a person live this way in the real world? Isn’t this kind of idealism impossible to carry out? Obviously, Jesus is much in touch with the real world. He knows the way people generally react in the situations described. What He is saying, in a way that shocks us, is that His disciples need to live differently from the world. As disciples of Jesus, we need to think lovingly in our dealings with people, even our enemies.
I can’t help but think of Jesus’ passion, when He willingly was beaten and stripped. He gave His back to those who struck; He did not hide His face from disgrace and spitting. Jesus Himself had no possessions or property except for the robe He wore, and even that He gave up without demanding it back. He prayed for His enemies even as they mocked Him. Everything that Jesus demands of His disciples, He Himself has first done on our behalf.
At this point in Jesus’ sermon, Luke records the so-called Golden Rule: “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). This is the general rule of reciprocity, by which even “sinners” may live. Most everyone will do good to someone they love or who has done good to them. But Jesus is looking for a higher standard of behavior. He teaches us to break the pattern of doing either good or bad based on what others do to us. Jesus is saying, “Don’t do bad because you have been treated badly; don’t just do good to those who treat you well.”
The Golden Rule in terms of quid pro quo is something even unregenerate sinners are capable of doing occasionally. But as the Beatitudes state, those who are in Christ, are enabled to do what Christ does, and this is most clearly expressed in the ability to give above and beyond the Golden Rule. You have been baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection. The Spirit was poured out on you in your Baptism—the same Spirit that descended on Christ at His Baptism. He will give you the grace to do what Christ Himself has done for you: to love even those who are enemies (cf. Romans 5:5-10; 13:8-10).
Jesus was given the title “Son of the Most High” by the angel at His annunciation (Luke 1:32). Christians receive the status of “sons of the Most High” through Baptism into Christ. As children of the Father, we imitate the Father’s kindness to us, and the purest manifestation of His kindness is mercy. The mercy the Father shows toward His perfect Son, He shows toward His forgiven sons and daughters. We, in turn, reflect His mercy because we are Christians. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Our text concludes with Jesus saying, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). This saying is often misunderstood as if Jesus were forbidding all attempts at discerning right from wrong, truth from falsehood. In fact, the Lord gave His people criteria by which we should judge the moral and religious claims we hear (e.g., Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 7:43-49; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 John 4:1-3). What Jesus warns against here is a begrudging spirit that delights in others’ faults. Rather than gleefully broadcasting the failures of our neighbors, we are called to be merciful and direct the wayward to the forgiveness and restoration of the Gospel. If we focus on condemning others, we ourselves can miss out on the forgiveness that our compassionate Father desires to extend to all.
Luther explains: “If you forgive, you have this comfort and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven. This is not because of your forgiving. For God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches. But God says this in order that He may establish forgiveness as our confirmation and assurance, as a sign alongside of the promise, which agrees with this prayer in Luke 6:37, ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’”[i]
In this part of His Sermon on the Plain, Jesus offers us glimpses of the Kingdom breaking forth on earth. A disciple is hated and responds with love. A disciple is cursed and responds with blessing. A disciple is abused and responds with prayer. When encountering a beggar, a disciple gives. When having things stolen, a disciple does not seek restitution.[ii] Again and again, in situation after situation, Jesus reveals one principle that rules over all. Mercy. “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
These are moments. Moments of mercy. By listing a series of situations in rapid succession, Jesus overwhelms us with how practical, how real, how tangible, how concrete, how utterly achievable life in the Kingdom can be.
We don’t need special skills to be a Christian. Having received mercy, we offer mercy. We don’t need to surround ourselves with only certain kinds of people. When confronted with anger, ridicule, and rejection, we suffer. When coming across those who are homeless, helpless, and hopeless, we love, we share generously. We continue to live in the world, but we do so fully invested in our daily lives because we know that the Kingdom of God is present here. Anytime and everywhere, moments of mercy can break out in our world. [iii] Such moments can be powerful. God can use a moment of mercy to change a person’s life.
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, is a tale of how a simple act of mercy changes a criminal’s life. Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. Although released from prison, he will always be a marked man, forced to display his yellow passport and to be treated like an outcast. When passing through a town, a clergyman offers him a place to stay. Jean Valjean responds to this gracious hospitality by stealing the household silver. When he is caught and accused, the clergyman says the silver was a gift and that Valjean had forgotten to take the candlesticks as well. In Hugo’s story, this one small moment of mercy becomes the beginning of a lifelong transformation of this man.[iv]
Hugo’s literary imagination echoes the words of Jesus in our text. “From one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:29). In the hand of God, one small act of mercy can be the beginning of new life for the lost.
To those accustomed to the ways of the world, this way of the Kingdom seems wrong. Unjust. You should defend yourself, claim your rights, guard your possessions, and repay evil with evil. But in the Kingdom of God, moments of mercy are the wrong that makes things right.[v]
Consider how Christ made us children of the Kingdom. He came to us in our sinfulness and bought our lives with His innocent suffering and death. As Luther reminds us, “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.[vi]” The death of Jesus is the wrong that makes things right.
God, the Father, sent His Son into our world to be the spring of His bountiful mercy. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opens a fountain of mercy that has a never-ending stream. Just as water can awaken life in soil that has been dry and dead for years, so too God brings life in the wilderness of our world through moments of mercy.
Sadly, we live in a world that has lost sight of mercy. We are becoming a cancel culture, a system set up with shifting standards of morality. A collective memory that is willing to recall past transgressions of rules and standards that weren’t in effect until today. Even worse, there is no forgiveness, no mercy. In a cancel culture, if a moment of sin or error is uncovered, then the one who committed that sin is canceled. A text message from twenty years ago containing a racial slur is enough to cancel the career of a sports announcer. It doesn’t matter that a teenage boy can grow and change and even repent of his earlier actions. The answer to sin is cancellation. Not forgiveness. And certainly not restoration.
In a cancel culture, the cure actually kills the patient. Cancellation purifies by exclusion. It sanctifies by silencing. It devalues and dehumanizes and destroys. And soon our streets will be filled with people who don’t matter.[vii]
Into such a merciless world, Jesus speaks words of mercy to His people. He awakens in our lives an echo of His grace. Repentance, forgiveness, and new life are foreign concepts in a culture obsessed with canceling.[viii] But in the Kingdom of God, these are the ways of God’s working. So, it is a blessing not only for us but for our world that Jesus comes and speaks these words today.
Jesus lived the perfect life that you and I could not live. He died on the cross in payment for our sins. He rose again that we might have eternal life. He sits at the Father’s right hand ruling all things for the good of His bride the Church. One day He will return to raise the dead and bring all His own to be with Him forever in His Kingdom without end. In the meanwhile, He calls us to love as He has loved us, to forgive as He has forgiven us, and to share His mercy in a merciless world.
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[ii] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.
[iii] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.
[iv] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.
[v] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.
[vii] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.
[viii] Gospel: Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7: Series C) | 1517, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-627-38-epiphany-7-series-c-1.