An initial read of Luke 6:27-38 can leave us more than a bit baffled.
Jesus has just chosen the 12 “disciples,” immediately changes their title to “apostles,” gathers everyone together on a level playing field and then begins to wax poetically.
After a few blessings and woes, Jesus starts talking about how we are to love our enemies (v. 27) and turn our other cheek (v. 29) and give to everyone who begs from us (v. 30). Jesus throws out a few examples of folks showing some basic love or simple acts of goodness but then implies that those mean very little because “even sinners” do those (vv. 32-34). Aren’t we still considered sinners?!
Finally, Jesus ends this section with a double negative and double affirmation which seem to be about as close to karma as Christianity gets (vv. 37-38). Give, get. Forgive, forgiven. Don’t judge or condemn so that you don’t get judged or condemned. One could be tempted to reduce this entire section down to one of those mathematical word equations in which what you do to others = done to you.
What are we to do with Jesus’ perplexing sermon on the plain?
One of the greatest gifts church leaders can give others is to tell them a good story. Stories provide images that get stuck in our heads and serve as verbal snapshots of our world. Stories also provide a sense of belonging and purpose for those who choose to enter the narrative.
My cousin worked for Blizzard Entertainment, the company that produced the popular online game World of Warcraft which held the Guinness World Record with over 12 million subscribers worldwide. Players create their own character avatar and choose a realm in which to live. In this digital world, people are given quests that connect them to the game’s larger story. Blizzard Entertainment has made millions by helping people actively take part in a larger narrative.
People in the real world need a world like this, where they can find their place in a story bigger than themselves and can discover who they are meant to be and what they are meant to do.
A story creates space in which people can dwell, and God’s story creates a beautiful space in which people want to dwell. Henri Nouwen writes in The Living Reminder that too often the church is led by an idea or theory rather than by our great story. Our story opens doors and makes room for us and others to search while providing boundaries so that we are not wandering aimlessly. The great vocation of a leader is to continuously make connections between the human story and the divine story.
What if we fought against the temptation to boil this whole section down into some cosmic karmic formula (which isn’t what we believe anyways) and instead told some stories to create some space for people to explore their faith?
Tell a story about how one instance of forgiveness led to another — not because it was then mandated but because the first act inspired the second. Or tell the story about the campaign to make forgiveness into its own emoji so it can start trending J Tell the story about how Tyler Perry continued to do good things even while receiving hate for his good acts. Talk about how a nine-year-old girl wanting to share her allowance inspired a movement of radical generosity through First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, Oklahoma, that helped forgive hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt.
Don’t turn this passage into bullet points, instead share some stories and invite people to see themselves as a part of this narrative. Help them imagine a larger story in which all of these other one-liners Jesus throws out might be game-changers. And please remember to make sure you tell the great story of God’s mercy which seems to lie at the center of all these teachings anyways (v. 36). This is the core that seems to disprove the give = get equation anyways. We have already received God’s mercy so we are now freed to explore that great story of mercy with others!
Helping others find their connection to God’s story is how we can help them discover their place in something bigger, their belonging to something better, their purpose for something now. It is also how we make sure we do not miss the larger point of the story Jesus came here to tell.
Questions for reflection:
- Which phrase from Jesus’ teaching caught your attention in a new way this week?
- Where have you seen people living the way Jesus is describing?
- How are you inviting people into God’s larger story unfolding in our world?