Easier Said Than Done

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  February 20, 2022

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Luke 6:27 – 38 (NIV)
When I was preparing the message for this week, I noticed there was a difference in the heading for the first ten verses of the text in some versions of the Bible.  For example, in the NIV, RSV and several others, the heading for the first part of the text reads, “Love FOR Enemies,” while, in the NKJV it reads, “Love YOUR Enemies” ... making it feel just a little more personal.
But what I found rather interesting is that in the Common English Bible, the heading was rather different.  In that version, the heading reads, “Behaving as God’s Children.”  However, if we put the two together, perhaps we could say that love for one’s enemies is an integral part of what it means to behave as God’s children.
Now it is important to keep in mind that at the time that the scriptures were originally written, they did not have headings or even chapters and verse numbers like what appears in our Bibles today. 
These more modern-day headings are descriptors that have been added after serious scholarly review of the scriptures.  Although they were not actually a part of what the original biblical authors wrote, they do give us some insight into the message that they were trying convey.
Now, looking at our text for this morning, what we find is a portion of what some scholars believe to be Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount… and more of Jesus’ teachings. 
Last week we looked at the Beatitudes, the blessings, and ultimate heavenly reward, that awaits those who follow Jesus.  We also looked at the woes that would befall those who set their sights on worldly gain rather than their heavenly reward.
Which brings us to the text for this week, where we find Jesus laying out a set of instructions for His disciples to follow… and let’s just say that following those instructions can be EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
Let’s listen to the first set of instructions again as they are found in the Message Paraphrase:

To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more payback. Live generously.  Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
Because let’s be honest, how often do we let the people we consider to be our enemies bring out the best in us?  It seems to go against our nature not to retaliate when someone does something wrong to us.  We want to give as good as we get… it goes back to that idea of “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth,” found in the Old Testament (see Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21).
But here, Jesus is basically telling us, “Not so fast…” as He turns that notion upside down… teaching not to do to others what they HAVE done to you but rather do to them what you would WANT them to do to you.
Yeah, I know, that really is EASIER SAID THAN DONE… but it is what Jesus said to do after all… and do you really want to argue with Jesus?
Now as we think about what it means to love our enemies, Jesus wasn’t talking about simply having affection for our enemies.  He wasn’t exactly suggesting that we run down to Starbucks and grab a Caramel Macchiato and eat a blueberry scone.
No, what Jesus is referring to here is an intentional act…
We don’t just randomly fall into the kind of love Jesus was talking about.  It takes conscious effort to act in the best interest of someone who does not seem to have our best interest at heart.
It requires a serious commitment to following the example that Jesus set for us… to love our enemies and to pray for them… you know, kind of like Jesus did. 
In his letter to the Roman church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And he went on to say, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10).
I know we don’t like to think of ourselves as having ever been “God’s enemies” but that is exactly what we were until Jesus gave His life for us… until Jesus intentionally chose to love His enemies and willingly did good to those who hated Him.
And if we look a little more closely at today’s New Testament lesson, the actions of one’s enemies that Jesus described are actually quite reminiscent of what He went through Himself before He was crucified.  It is over in John 18 (19-23) that we read about the high priest slapping Jesus in the face because he did not like Jesus’ response to his questions. 
While in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 26:65-67), after the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy, the Scriptures say that those who were gathered spit in Jesus’ face and struck Him with their fists while others slapped him.  
And yet, in spite of all that, as He hung on the cross at Calvary, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  After which, it says, “they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34). 
It seems to fall right in line with our text, If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”
And if Jesus can look past all of the things that were done to Him, the beatings, the torture, the imprisonment, the crucifixion… who are we to hold a grudge against anyone? 
Several times throughout the Scriptures, we find encouragement to forgive as we have been forgiven… and yet, I can say unequivocally, that it is so much EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
But let me say this, the reward will be absolutely worth it.  Because as we keep reading in this morning’s text, when we follow Jesus’ directive to love our enemies, do good to them and even lend to them without any expectation of repayment… the promise that follows is that our “reward will be great, and [we] will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”  And then Jesus adds, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  It all goes back to the idea of behaving like God’s children.
It is rather uncanny how many traits and mannerisms we unconsciously pick up from our parents… everything from the way we walk to the way we talk… especially when we think about the sayings that get passed down from one generation to the next. 
We tend to behave more like our earthly parents than we probably want to admit.  But it is only natural, since we tend to model our behaviors based on what we saw as we were growing up.  And it should be the same when it comes to our heavenly Parent… we ought to model our behaviors based on what we know and read about God.
Our behavior should leave no doubt, even to the casual observer, that we are God’s children… so I repeat, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
But what does that mean, to be merciful…
We often talk about grace and mercy working in tandem… describing grace as God’s unmerited favor, getting what we do not deserve… while mercy, on the other hand, is not getting what we do deserve.
We had a chance to see this play out in real time on Friday when a judge gave a former police officer a sentence that was definitely not what most people felt she deserved. 
In spite of sentencing guidelines that ranged from 6 to 15 years, ex-Minnesota police officer, Kimberly Potter, received a sentence of only two years for killing a 20-year-old young man, named Daunte Wright.  A sentence that means she will likely serve less than a year and a half in prison and then finish out the rest of her time under supervised release.  As upsetting as it was to Mr. Wright’s family and many others, that was definitely a merciful sentence.
Particularly if you compare it to the case of a woman named, Pamela Moses, in Memphis, who was sentenced to six years and a day for attempting to exercise what she believed was her right to vote… doing so based on misinformation that was given to her by election officials and a probation officer. 
Pamela Moses relied on the word of people she believed were giving her factual information.  She voted… but based on the laws of the state she should not have because of a prior felony conviction.  She made a mistake. Nobody died.  Nobody was injured or even harmed in any way. 
But the judge in her case, said that Pamela Moses seemed (and I am quoting from the news reports here):

​​​​​​​to have nothing but contempt for the law and acts as though she believes herself above the law.  Perhaps some time in custody will serve as a period of reflection that will give the defendant the insight she needs in order to be fully rehabilitated.  (retrieved from: https://www.yahoo.com/news/black-womans-bid-regain-voting-125126832.html)
Contrast that with the judge in the case of Kimberly Potter, who said, “This is a cop who made a tragic mistake. She drew her firearm, thinking it was a Taser, and ended up killing a young man” (retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/us/kim-potter-sentence-manslaughter.html).  This same judge said that Kimberly Potter, someone who killed another human being, did not need rehabilitation to become law-abiding.
But someone who was trying to vote needs to be “fully rehabilitated?”
It is situations like these that make it hard to follow Jesus’ directives found in our text for today.  But in spite of the fact that doing so can be so much EASIER SAID THAN DONE, Jesus expects us to do it anyhow…
As I thought about all of this in the context of this being Black History month, I could not help but think about how throughout history, Black people have been expected to have love for their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless and pray those who curse them… to turn the other cheek, and to keep giving without demanding back what has been taken…
And standing here today as a Black woman, I will be the first to admit that really is a whole lot EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
But at the end of the day, who would know better than Jesus just how hard that can be to do?  and yet, it is what Jesus commands us to do, anyhow.
Now just to be clear, there is more than just a racial divide that our society has to contend with.  There are any number of issues that have people drawing lines of demarcation between friend and enemy…
Russia and Ukraine
Democrats and Republicans
Vaccinated and unvaccinated
And the list could go on. 
But what it all boils down to is what the text tells us which is that we are to love our enemies.  We are to behave as God’s children.
And that leads us to the last two verses of our text that contain even more teachings on behaving like God’s children which are EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 
In other words, when we are critical rather than compassionate, we will be criticized ourselves.  However, if we treat others generously and graciously, that is what will come back to us.
I like the way these last two verses read in the Message Paraphrase:

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.
And, while following in Jesus’ footsteps will usually be much EASIER SAID THAN DONE, the path is sure to lead us to something that is far more wonderful than anything we could have ever imagined.
In a nutshell, we ought to be giving what we want to get… not in terms of material gain but in terms of the things that we want the Lord to bless us with… His love, grace, mercy, and peace, all with a little splash of joy thrown in for good measure. 
But we are living in a world that is increasingly being dominated by social media with people who are constantly doing whatever it takes to accumulate “likes” and “shares” … all with the hope of going viral.  Sadly, many of these people are using this as their means of measuring how much they are loved and respected.
However, God’s love is not predicated on a social media presence… God’s love is eternal and unconditional…  and it is so much bigger and greater than anything Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok or any other platform have to offer.  God is not concerned with how many followers we may have on social media.  God’s concern is whether or not we are following Jesus.
But I will say there is one thing that God’s love does have in common with the posts on those various social media platforms… and that is that it is meant to be shared… even when that is EASIER SAID THAN DONE.