Luke 6:27-36 “Enemies”
In the play “Hamilton” that has been made now into a movie as well, we see the famous Aaron Burr challenge Hamilton to a duel. That was the proscribed course of action in that age of chivalry. If someone had annoyed you enough, you would challenge them to a life and death shooting match. I know that we talk about “cancel culture” today, but back then you would really be cancelled, stuck in a pine box, and buried six feet under.
The whole thing with duels starts with one person taking off his glove and hitting the cheek of the other. I can only suppose that most of the men who engaged in dueling in that day were learned bible-believing souls. Yet, dueling was the common practice. One did not turn the other cheek at all. They escalated to extreme bloodshed for the sake of honor.
Let me just ask you: Would you take out a pistol and shoot someone because you got swatted with a white glove? That is today truly a crazy thought.
Is that not our inborn human nature, however? If someone strikes us on the cheek, do we not turn and strike back at least twice as hard so that that person will be taught a lesson about striking people on the cheek?!
Or, is it even more our human nature to strike first in such a violent way that the other person is left incapacitated.
Some years back there was a movie called “The Hunt for Red October.” The movie was about the Soviet Era quest for a completely silent submarine that could launch a hundred nuclear warheads at the United States. This submarine was designed as a “first strike” weapon. It was not unrealistic in that adversaries of America have developed many first-strike weapons. Russia and China have both developed hyper-sonic weapons in order to strike first. By the way, as it turned out the hypersonic missiles of our adversaries can be counter-measured with plain old dust. Traveling at hypersonic speeds create such heat that if you put dust in the air, hence more friction, that is more heat, then the missiles go down before arming. That is why I have given up dusting the house!
Pearl Harbor, Gulf of Tonkin, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, Russia in the Ukraine today. Our human history is replete with “first strikes.” The idea being that one should strike the enemy and take him or her out before a chance of being hit. I think that is even more our human nature.
What Jesus is suggesting here is revolutionary in the history of the human race. Jesus is suggesting that our “first strike” against our enemy should be to show the love of God towards them. We do this because it is the godly thing to do. Read verse 35: “The Almighty. . . .is kind to the ungrateful and the evil ones (wicked).”
God shows mercy or “pity” towards those people who are so stuck in their human failed warlike natures. We should pity anyone who only lives in the anger and fear of being struck on the cheek. They know not the love of God in their lives.
What should we do with our enemies? We should somehow find the strength to love them despite our innate human nature. If we can love our enemy, then surely that person is no longer our enemy. I have thought about this most of my life. I think we all have! How do we stop hating? How do we stop the hate that takes over the world almost on a cyclical basis?
Where are we on that cycle right now? The FBI reported that 2021 had the highest number of hate crimes reported in the last 12 years.
Many have wondered what on earth could be the cause of someone shooting up a country music concert in Las Vegas, a church in Texas, a school in California, and the list goes on and on. What makes people do that? Hate. I do not understand why we all do not understand what is causing this! It is purely hatred. This is what happens when people’s lives are taken over by hate. This is what happens when people get the idea to strike on the cheek in the first place! It is hate that drives that first strike.
Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Why? If you do not, then the hatred will take over your life too. It will take over your family, your neighborhood, your state, your country, and the world.
You know, my whole life people have been telling me that I am supposed to hate Russia. I grew up in the Soviet Era. Indeed, I might have even a reason to hate Russia because I am German and have experienced the occupation of East Germany and the horrors of the communist regime of Erich Honecker, a puppet dictator installed by Russians.
Back in 2012 we accepted a Russian exchange student. That was going to be a challenge for me. Could I accept a Russian in my home for a full year? What if the old hatreds I had been taught come out again? Well, instead a whole lot of Christian loving took place, and I ended up even going to Russia to meet her family, too. This of course is the story of Nelli who stayed with us. How strange it was for Nelli’s family, born in the Soviet Union, to have an American drinking tea in the living room. All the hate that we had been taught washed away with a bit of tea!
That is not quite the end of the story. I wrote a book with Nelli about our experiences together in the family. Some of you have read the book. My uncle Olaf in Germany read my book, and was so moved by it that he sent me a three-page letter in the regular mail with a confession of sorts. In the early days of World War II, our family in Germany was assigned a nanny-housekeeper, a young girl who had been taken from her family in Nazi controlled Russia. My father and uncle had a Russian war slave to take care of them as children. I had never heard this story before. The idea that my sweat old German mother had owned a Russian slave girl was just incomprehensible at first.
In the letter from my uncle, he stated that he could never hate the Russians, even when they took over East Germany, because he had loved this childhood nanny so much. She was always sweet and kind to the family. We do not even know if she survived the war by the way. Love stopped him from hating.
That is it. The first step to loving your enemy is simply refusing to hate. We are being told day and night whom to hate through social media and regular news. We are told to hate the Democrats and hate the Republicans. We are told to hate the Chinese and hate the Russians. We are told to hate the immigrants. We are told to hate the Muslim. Likewise, the Muslim is being told to hate the Christian.
I think about and remember the Apostle Paul in his writing to the early churches. Romans 12:14-21. “Overcome evil with good.” Paul, who was beaten and imprisoned so many times, tells the early churches to overcome with the Goodness of God.
You know, if someone strikes you on the cheek, it is a challenge. The duel is supposed to follow. But, Jesus tells us that the real challenge is NOT to hate. The whole world wants you to hate. God wants you and commands you to love instead. Who are you going to listen to?
Did you notice the first line of our scripture for this morning? Verse 27, “But I say to you that listen. . . .” Got it? Jesus is only speaking to those who will listen. Guess what? The world is not listening to Jesus.
Yes, we have a listening problem in our world today. In the old days, and still in Jewish Synagogues around the world, the first commandment one hears when worship starts is the Great Shema—the Great “Listen” Command. Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel the Lord your God is Lord alone.” The first command is to listen. The second is to love as we read in the next line “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.”
The bigger problem today with listening stems from our ability to only listen to what we want to hear. We get to choose which news channel to listen too. If someone says something on our Facebook feed that we do not like, we simply unfriend the person. Too many people today are tuning in and listening only to that which will feed their anger rather than lead them in Christian love and compassion.
Jesus says that His message of love is only for those who will listen to it: Did He know about cable news and the internet back then? Seems like it. Or, maybe this has always been the problem that we prefer to listen to that which is hateful. So, listen to this which is hard to hear: Mt 22:37, “You shall love the lord with all your heart, soul, and mind; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Accept these commands from Jesus over your life, and pity or have mercy on those who continue to hate and will not listen to the Word of God.