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THE SUPERIOR WAY

Read­ing Time: 10 minutes

(Ref. Texts: 1Sam 26:2.7–9.12–13.22–23; 1Cor 15:45–49; Luke 6:27–38)

Return­ing hate for hate mul­ti­plies hate, adding deep­er dark­ness to a night already devoid of stars. Dark­ness can­not drive out dark­ness; only light can do that. Hate can­not drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate mul­ti­plies hate, viol­ence mul­ti­plies viol­ence, and tough­ness mul­ti­plies tough­ness in a des­cend­ing spir­al of destruc­tion” (Mar­tin Luth­er King, Jnr).

Introduction

After the beatitudes and the woes, this Sunday Gos­pel presents a con­tinu­ation of last week read­ing. It is the con­tinu­ation of Jesus’ teach­ing on the Plain. Unlike in Mat­thew, where the beatitude is addressed to the dis­ciples and to the crowds, in Luke, it is strictly addressed to the dis­ciples only. This Sunday Gos­pel read­ing is the applic­a­tion of the beatitude. We are not unfa­mil­i­ar with these teach­ings. They are the cli­max and also the chal­lenge of what it means to be a dis­ciple and a believ­er too. The love of enemies; turn­ing the oth­er cheek; giv­ing to those who ask; doing to oth­ers what and how you would want done unto you; lend­ing without interest and without expect­ing to be paid back; and not judging oth­ers so as not to be judged are all marks of a true dis­ciple. Jesus teaches the super­i­or way.

Although these teach­ings are found both in Mat­thew and Luke, how­ever, there are dif­fer­ences and sim­il­ar­it­ies. Mat­thew presents the teach­ing as a con­trast between Jesus’ teach­ing and the teach­ings of the law and the proph­ets. This is in keep­ing with the author’s con­cern to address his pre­dom­in­antly Jew­ish audi­ence. Prob­ably, Luke omits this con­trast because it was unne­ces­sary for the Gen­tile believ­ers he is address­ing. Here, the adapt­a­tion of the Gos­pel con­tin­ues. Each Evan­gel­ist adapts the teach­ing to the cul­ture, back­ground, men­tal­ity, belief, mod­us par­landi and mod­us vivendi of the com­munity he is address­ing. This is the approach we have not learnt in many parts of Afric­an includ­ing Niger­ia. Chris­ti­ans here have not learnt that the mes­sage of the Bible must be adap­ted to the life of the loc­al people. And the inab­il­ity to do this means the inab­il­ity of the Gos­pel mes­sage to pen­et­rate and per­meate the life of the people. This is an error that must cor­rec­ted espe­cially by Chris­ti­an leaders.

Fur­ther­more, we also note a dif­fer­ence in the choice of words between Mat­thew and Luke. For instance, In Luke, Jesus con­trasts the beha­viour of his dis­ciples with that of those clas­si­fied as “sin­ners.” In Mat­thew, Jesus con­trasts the desired beha­viour with that of tax col­lect­ors and Gen­tiles. Con­cern­ing the con­clu­sion of the teach­ing, while Mat­thew con­cludes the teach­ing about love of enemies with the admon­i­tion and invit­a­tion of believ­ers to be per­fect like, Luke con­cludes by emphas­iz­ing the mercy of God. Two dif­fer­ent approaches of mak­ing the Gos­pel access­ible, com­pre­hens­ible and sens­ible to the people.

The superior way

But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If any­one strikes you on the cheek, offer the oth­er also; and from any­one who takes away your coat do not with­hold even your shirt” (Luke 6:27–29). Hav­ing addressed the beatitudes to his dis­ciples, Jesus now turns and addresses those listen­ing (Greek: tois akouous­in). Those who are listen­ing refers to the imme­di­ate and remote listen­ers. That is, those who were there present listen­ing to him while he delivered his teach­ing and those who will later listen to him by read­ing the doc­u­mented ver­sion of his teach­ings. The “but I say to you that listen” should be under­stood in line with Luke 6:22. To the teach­ing on hatred and mal­treat­ment which his dis­ciples will suf­fer, Jesus wants those listen­ing to him to sub­sti­tute hate with love and kind­ness. To the inferi­or and dis­crim­in­at­ory way of the Jew­ish teach­ing, Jesus sub­sti­tutes the super­i­or and accom­mod­at­ing way, the way of divine wis­dom as opposed to human wisdom.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. This should be the beha­viour of those who listen to Jesus and in fact, the beha­viour of Chris­ti­ans. But how should “love your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, bless­ing those who curse you, and pray­ing for those who abuse you” be under­stood? The Jew­ish law says love your neigh­bour and hate your enemy (cf. Matt 5:43). But Jesus invites Chris­ti­ans to love their enemies and even pray for those who abuse them (cf. 1Cor 4:12). Why? To start with, the love which Jesus is refer­ring to is not love with affec­tion but agape. Again, we should under­stand who the enemies are. If the non-Jews were regarded as enemies simply because they were not Jews, then, they must be loved. Not being a Jew is no reas­on to be hated. There­fore, Jesus is say­ing you should not hate someone because he/she does not think like you, does not come from the same place with you, belongs to the same reli­gious denom­in­a­tion or con­greg­a­tion, sees things dif­fer­ently from you, expresses dif­fer­ent opin­ion from yours, does not share the same reli­gious views with you, or any such reas­on or reas­ons. It is fool­ish­ness to hate and/or mal­treat someone due to the above reas­ons. On the con­trary, Jesus invites his listen­ers to love all includ­ing their enemies, to do good to all includ­ing those who hate them, bless all includ­ing those who curse them, and pray for all includ­ing those who abuse them. There­fore, the love Jesus tells us to have for our enemies is not a warm, fuzzy feel­ing that we have deep in our hearts. If we wait for that, we will nev­er love them because a real enemy can­not be loved. The love we are to have for our enemies is a love that does some­thing for them, quite apart from how we might feel about them.

If any­one strikes you on the cheek, offer the oth­er also; and from any­one who takes away your coat do not with­hold even your shirt.” It requires wis­dom to under­stand what Jesus really means when he says if any­one strikes you the check, offer the oth­er cheek also. This means pos­ing no res­ist­ance. Tak­ing this lit­er­ally would be fool­ish­ness. It can only be under­stood with­in its con­text. Wicked people should not be giv­en any chance and they should be com­pletely avoided. Some­times, it is even bet­ter to con­front them. But this needs wis­dom because a wicked per­son is god­less and as you know, god­less people can do any­thing because they have noth­ing and nobody to restrict them. They are people without con­science or if you like, with dead con­science. They are heart­less. Turn­ing the oth­er cheek means not return­ing evil with evil so as to avoid the escal­a­tion of viol­ence. In oth­er words, when Jesus speaks about turn­ing the oth­er cheek, He isn’t talk­ing about being pass­ive in the face of a phys­ic­al assault. He means we should not defend our self in the face of a griev­ous insult. Cul­tur­ally, the slap on the cheek was more an attack on hon­our than a phys­ic­al assault. Jesus is not actu­ally pro­hib­it­ing defence, but retali­ation. Wis­dom is needed in deal­ing with some people espe­cially the godless.

If you love those who love you, what cred­it is that to you? For even sin­ners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what cred­it is that to you? For even sin­ners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what cred­it is that to you? Even sin­ners lend to sin­ners, to receive as much again” (Luke 6:32–34). After invit­ing believ­ers to love their enemies; turn the oth­er cheek; give to those who ask for their assist­ance; do to oth­ers what and how they would want done unto them; lend without interest and without expect­ing to be paid back, Jesus intens­i­fies his reas­ons on why they must do as he has said. Jesus does this with three “ifs.” If Chris­ti­ans should fol­low the old way of the Jews and love only those who love them; if they should do good only to those who do good to them; and if they should lend only to those who will repay them, they have not done any­thing dif­fer­ent and extraordin­ary because accord­ing to Jesus, even sin­ners do the same. Who are the sin­ners? In this con­text, sin­ners should be under­stood accord­ing to the Jew­ish per­cep­tion. Accord­ing to the Phar­isa­ic con­cep­tion, a sin­ner is a non-reli­gious Jew. That is, a Jew who does not observe Jew­ish tra­di­tions and cus­toms. In the Jew­ish view, sin­ners (Greek: amartōloi) are Gen­tiles. That is, non-Jews (cf. Gal 2:15). Ordin­ar­ily, a sin­ner is one who lives in oppos­i­tion to the divine will. Wheth­er we under­stand it accord­ing to its Jew­ish, Phar­isa­ic or ordin­ary mean­ing, the sense remains the same. For Jesus, believ­ers’ love, char­ity and altru­ism should tran­scend that of sin­ners who lim­it their love and help only to their fel­low sinners.

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