“But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. 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. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. . . . Then you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“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. . . .
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for anyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice . . . They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” (Luke: 27-31, 35-37, 41-42, 46-48)
The foundation for making a difference for God’s kingdom is to be different from the world around us. In this passage, Jesus tells us just how different.
If I’m listening to Jesus, I’ll respond to hate with love, to insults with blessing, to ill-treatment with prayers for the person responsible for it. I’ll respond to theft with mercy, and lend without expecting a return. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I won’t let wrongs dictate my response to them, robbing me of peace and causing me to lash back in kind. I won’t make pride and possessions more important than my relationship with Jesus.
If I’m listening, I’ll realize that judgment of others is not up to me. Needing forgiveness myself, I’ll be forgiving of others. I’ll give freely because God has already given me so much I don’t deserve, and keeps on giving every single day. I won’t think I’m better than others, but with the Spirit’s revelation I’ll be able to see what needs to be changed in me, and ask Him for help to make those changes.
It’s hard to hear these things, because they bring my shortcomings into such sharp focus. And as Jesus makes clear, putting them into practice will take digging down deep.
Several years ago, I heard the eulogy for a man who put Jesus’ words into practice. An off-duty police officer l’ll call “G” (being unable to ask his permission to identify him) was travelling with his wife and children across the bridge from one side of the city to the other. Suddenly, the car in front of them stopped, and the driver came back to their car. G got out and the man, someone he had arrested previously, began to beat him up, throwing him across the hood of the car. Other than trying to ward off punches, G didn’t retaliate. His wife and children were almost hysterical.
Some time later, G asked his son to come with him to visit someone in jail. When they arrived, the inmate they went to see was the same one who had earlier delivered the beating. G asked if the man needed anything. He said he could use a pair of shoes. G went out and bought them and gave them to the inmate.
When they left the jail, his son asked him why on earth he would do something like that. G told him, “Son, if I have faith, this is where the rubber meets the road.” G had heard Jesus’ words, and he put them into practice. When the flood of punches came, he dug down deep and stood on the rock. Because of it, he was unshakable.
I don’t know if G’s actions and gift made any difference in the life of that inmate. What I do know is that it made a difference in his own life. It made a difference in his son’s life.
And I pray that because it reflects so faithfully what Jesus taught, it will make a difference in mine, God being my helper.