“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6)
Jesus continues… 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. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked… A parallel passage reads, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:46, 47)
Love. Do good. Lend. Greet… respect, welcome. To WHOM is it “natural” to relate in his way? Those who reciprocate. And who is likely to do so? Our “brothers and sisters” – not necessarily blood relatives, but our “comrades”, the “like-minded” folks on the same stretch of life’s road as us. People we understand to be “people like us.”
We hear Jesus begin and start to puff out our chests: “If you love…” YES, of COURSE we love people – look at how hospitable we are! Look how warmly we greet one another! Look how we enjoy dinner in each other’s homes! Yes, but none of these people are among those who have anything against you, are they? None of them are folks are among those you consider “marginal,” the “difficult” people who are “hard to love,” are they? The New Testament word for “hospitality” is philoxenia – literally, “love of the stranger.” It’s not hanging with the homies.
Then Jesus opens up and we feel it… Even the people we feel safe calling “scum” do the same as us! They welcome those who welcome them. They embrace those in whose faces and lives they see themselves, their own image, reflected. He mentions the “tax collectors,” the most corrupt class of folks in an extremely corrupted system. Who are the doubly-despised persons today? Partisan politicians? Gangsta rappers? Communists? “Illegals”? Racist KKK members? I guess it depends who you ask. But the principle still holds – “they” respect their own, they love their own. Even “they” act decently to those that don’t screw them over.
Jesus calls us to a love that “expects nothing in return.” How often does our love expect something in return? (Does it ever NOT expect something in return?) What DO we expect when we “love” someone? Appreciation. Gratitude. Positive feedback. As we’ve thought about disability we’ve realized that it’s hard to “re-envision” certain forms of impairment because the people affected are not in a position to “give back in return” the things we particularly value. TO which Jesus would almost certainly say, “SO WHAT?” So a person can’t respond to you, won’t let you know how much she appreciates you… won’t even remember the next time you come that you were so nice to her. So what?
Jesus spins this out to a hard conclusion with his radical challenge to “love your enemies…” Why? “So that you might be children of your Father in heaven…” Recently, we posted on Facebook our process of spending 30 days praying for (not against) ISIS. That was interesting, to say the least. It took some discipline, but we definitely felt changed by doing so. We felt a new closeness to our Father (even if some of our friends thought we were being weird).
What Jesus is getting at is accepting “the Other” those who are not “like us.” We can typically count on being accepted by “our own”… otherwise, we’d have dumped them and found other people to call “our own”… I know TONS of people who have “moved on” from “unproductive, unhappy, dysfunctional” relationships to relocate themselves relationally. Sometimes this takes place geographically as well, given the mobile nature of our society. Nowadays we have lots of leeway and freedom in “picking our friends”. But once we do, how insular we become! Isn’t that what Jesus is asking? No matter how narrowly or how broadly we define our “circle,” isn’t the true test of heart to be found not in how well we treat those within it, but how (or whether) we reach out to those OUTSIDE of it?
The thing is, God Himself does this. That’s the whole point of the Jesus story. And here, with these questions, He is calling out of us the pursuit of a certain kind of “family relationship,” patterned after the Father’s character. It’s perverse to return evil for good; it’s normal to return good for good… but it’s divine to return good for evil.
Jesus then asks, “What more are you doing than others?” He expects those who follow him to live and love in a way superior to the patterns around them. Do we even notice the “patterns of living and loving” around us? How do people express value and love? Don’t you notice that the Father’s love is different? It’s THAT love, Jesus is saying, after which to need to pattern your own. It’s THAT welcome that should define how you relate to the stranger, the “outsider.”
Frankly, that’s a problem I have with a lot of our “faith communities.” Many groups seem to exist solely to “maintain (doctrinal/racial/political) purity,” to “police the boundaries.” “Fellowship” really IS only with one’s “fellow travelers.” There’s no sense or need to reach out to the “alien.” In fact, it becomes hard to even imagine. But if all we do is love our “comrades,” we may only be loving ourselves with a sort of “expanded selfishness.” Jesus will not condone this.
This post continues a series which begins here.