“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 mistreat you . . . lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and 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. (Luke 6: 27-29; 35-36)
We all have ears, but that doesn’t mean we’re listening. Just being within earshot of a speaker doesn’t equate to listening, especially if we’re preoccupied; more especially if we don’t want to hear what’s being said.
Here Jesus was speaking to a big crowd, some already following Him, others looking for healing, some probably just curious. They could all hear, but Jesus knew they weren’t all going to listen to what He was about to say. But for those who were ready to be taught, He had something important to tell them: when faced with negatives, don’t react with more; respond with positives.
I can almost see the sea of frowns and furrowed brows, hear the communal “Huh???” I would have been right there with them. Because when someone hates, curses or mistreats me, my reaction is to either lash back at them or burst into tears. But that’s just what Jesus was saying: learn the discipline of getting past my reactions in order to reach a much better response.
At first glance, this looks like a free pass for my tormentors and a bitter pill to swallow for me. If it’s a pill, though, it’s part of a prescription that will make me much healthier. Being driven by my emotions diminishes me. It keeps me immature, a slave to what others think or do. Being disciplined, being a disciple of Christ and following His example, is what builds me up. It elevates me above the irritations and offenses that are a part of life, focusing me on what God thinks and does. He provides the clear example of being kind to the ungrateful and wicked — those who continue to turn up their noses at His offer of redemption, who prefer to continue in their sins.
It makes me realize that responding to provocations in positive ways is right and good for me; I don’t do it because the recipients of the response have done what’s right and good. Yet, my response is also for their sake; it gives them another opportunity to see God’s grace in action and to choose what is right and good for themselves. They may decline the choice, but not because of my actions.
How I wish I could say that I always do this! If I have any consolation, it’s that I do it far more often than previously. And when I do, I experience a level of peace and a sense of wholeness that testifies to the truth of what Jesus says. I no longer feel like a puppet being jerked around by someone else pulling my strings. Instead, I feel held up, gently moved by the hand of God.
Lord, please help me to live in response to Your love and grace, and not in reaction to the conflicts around me. I want to be held up, not strung up.