What did you say? How’s that? Come again? How many different ways can we say we don’t understand? That we didn’t catch what was said to us; that we couldn’t figure out the meaning or that we have to confess we were distracted by something and completely missed the fact that someone was talking to us. How many ways can we express that? Millions, no doubt. Millions of ways, for millions of times. The truth is we don’t listen all that often. We assume, we fill in the blanks, we wait for our turn to insert the really brilliant and cutting remark formed with our rapier-like wit when the other was droning on about something.
Our passage for this week begins with Jesus saying “But I say to you that listen...” You that listen? You’d think everyone would listen. It’s Jesus for heaven’s sake. Someone that important surely wouldn’t have to fight to be heard, right?
Are you listening? You’re not hearing me! Those statements were made by people very important to me recently. It isn’t the importance of the communicator that determines our willingness to listen. It has more to do with removing our fears. More to do with setting ourselves aside long enough to pay attention. Long enough to stay invested in the conversation. What if our goal was not winning the point? What if our desire was not to figure out how to get our views across, our opinions expressed, our position defended, our safety ensured, and instead we poured our whole self out in listening to the other? How might that make communication different? How might that help diminish the misunderstandings and the hurt feelings go away?
I used to hear those statements from Jesus - let those who have ears to hear - as being somewhat judgmental. Sort of along the lines of the “you snooze, you lose” kind of approach. Take it or leave it. No skin off my nose. But now I wonder. I wonder if there was more of a plea, or at least an invitation in these words. It now sounds to me as though he is begging us to pay attention, to lean in and hear the words he has to offer us, because he knows these are the words of life and more than anything else he wants us to have life, to live life, to let life fill us and transform us and give us a peace and joy that passes all understanding. “But I say to you that listen ...” And please let that someone be you, please come and sit, stop the noise in your own head for a little while, stop trying to justify your own existence and let me do it for you! “How often I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her brood.” Let those who listen be you, my beloved son, my beloved daughter, please.
Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me these days. At least until I read the words he wants us to listen to. One commentator wrote “congregations fill stadiums to hear sermons on “Three Easy Steps to Love” and “Five Paths to a Better Life.” If Jesus has preached either of those sermons” we would all find this a whole lot easier, but Jesus insists on preaching the word we need rather than the word we want. He gives us the hard stuff.
Luke 6:27-36 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Is it any wonder he had to beg us to listen? Are these words we really want to hear, to really listen to and perhaps change our lives around? Well, no, let’s be honest. We live in a world that nurses grudges, that licks wounds, that lives to get even. Talk about your swimming against the tide. These words of Jesus here in the Gospel of Luke sound like a note out of tune in the symphony of our lives. Love your enemies? Come on!
Take a look though, take a listen. Listen to this rethinking of how we live in community. “Love your enemies” he says. But how do we do that? We whine and complain and run off with a million excuses, a million justifications as to why that not only won’t work but it isn’t even humanly possible. Listen Jesus, what you are asking is not going to work in the world in which we live. Whether we are talking about international enemies, where an expression of love for those enemies will get us labeled a traitor to our nation or soft on terrorism, or bleeding hearts or who knows what else; or talking about personal enemies who just make our lives the living hell that it can be from time to time until we develop enough backbone to get rid of them. Surely you aren’t asking us to just put up with bad treatment because Christians are supposed to be the welcome mat for the world, allowing anyone and everyone to wipe their feet on us!
Slow down, he would stop, just listen for a moment, please? Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. But how in the world... Shh, listen. Bless those who curse you. Are you kidding me, those no good .... Quiet! Listen. Pray for those who abuse you. OK, now you've gone too far, Jesus. That just isn’t right, to put up with abuse is simply wrong, just wrong.
Listen, please just listen. Watch what he does here. On one level he is repeating the same charge four times. Love your enemies. Love those who hate you. Love those who curse you. Love those who abuse you. Repetition to make the point. But on another level he is shifting the call. Love, do good, bless, pray for. Do you see, do you hear? Jesus doesn’t tell us to just take it. He doesn’t tell us to just be the door mat of anyone and everyone. What he tells us is don’t become them. Don’t harbor the kind of hate that allows abuse and cursing to happen. Turn it around. Turn it over. But notice the distance, “do good” means encounter, get close enough to impact a life somehow. “Bless” is at arms length. When curses are being hurled, you might need to step back. Step back and gather yourself so that you can hurl blessings in return. But step back, blessings aren’t in your face, they are laid at your feet. They are handed out at a bit of distance. And then “pray,” when the abuser is at work, then get away, get far away, run to safety. But don’t carry the hate with you, run from it too. Instead from your safe place you pray, pray for God’s healing and God’s love to transform the abuser. Leave behind the inclination to hurt back, as you have been hurt. It doesn’t help in the healing. It doesn’t make right what has been a horrible wrong. Let it go, and love. Love from a distance. Or better yet, pray, pray that God’s love can do what your love is incapable of at the moment. Pray that God step in and love your enemies.
Do we lose something in the process. Well, yeah, according to the world we lose something. According to a revenge culture we lose something. That’s why Jesus goes on to talk about losing. If you always want to be even, what good is that? If you always want pay back what good is that? If you always get love in return for your love, it is really love? The love that surrenders. The love that pours out regardless of the return. The love that is like God.
Why be kind? For the good it does? No. Though it does to good, powerful good. For the feeling it gives us? No. Though those feelings are wonderful by products of doing kindness. Why do acts of kindness? Because that’s what God does. And the reward we get is that we can participate in that love. We can love like God loves. That’s why we do it. Because God does. And it starts with listening. Deeply enough to hear. Jesus speaks to those who listen.
I’m ready to listen. At long last, speak to me. Love, he whispers, just love.