Sermon February 20 2022 Luke 6:27ff Love Your Enemies… Rev. Betsy Hogan
Here's the most important thing that I can tell you about the famous and troubling and exhausting passage that we just heard from Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke's gospel.
Pronouns matter. In this passage, pronouns matter.
Which isn't to say, of course, that in a whole variety of ways pronouns don't actually ALWAYS matter, because obviously they do: the pronouns we choose for ourselves and others reveal huge amounts of meaning, as tiny as they are –
Everything from the deliberate dehumanizing of calling another person "IT" to the more nuanced inclusivity of a singular "THEY" to even the finely-tuned difference in French of the respectfulness of "VOUS" versus the more intimate "TU".
So sure, pronouns always matter. But in this passage? Pronouns really really matter.
Because in this passage, every single time that Jesus uses the word "you" or "your" as they've been translated into English from the original Greek, it's a singular "you" and a singular "your".
And that matters. Because he's speaking these words to a great huge gathering of people, and to all of us, but he's speaking to them, and to us, as individuals. Not as a collective.
"But I say to you, singular" he says -- not to ALL of them like a great massed lump together -- but to EACH of them... "Love your, personal, enemies. Do good to those who hurt you, singular. Bless those who curse you, singular. Pray for those who abuse you, singular."
"And if anyone et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? Singular, singular, singular."
And that matters. It matters hugely. Which in some ways, to be honest, is kind of weird and amusing and ironic, for me in having to preach on this passage this morning because there it was in the lectionary cycle of readings...
to feel the importance of emphasizing this – that this entire passage in the original Greek is expressed in the singular voice.
Because the truth is, that's pretty much how we usually hear it. Hovering around in our brains, challenging us as faithful people – God being our helper -- with its demand for grace and forbearance in relation to truly terrible people who maybe have done, or continue to do, truly terrible things that really hurt us.
And love these enemies, we usually think? And we can pretty much name them. Because our default is thinking in the singular voice. About MY enemies, who've hurt ME. That's normally the automatic response.
But right now? There's a far better than average chance that right now we're kind of hearing it collectively. As though it was a teaching of Jesus for ALL of us, his disciples, followers, people of faith, Christians, collectively. Rather than for EACH of us as disciples, followers, people of faith, Christians, personally.
But it wasn't. It wasn't for ALL of us collectively. It was for EACH of us personally.
And if that ALWAYS matters, which it does, but we don't usually misunderstand it, it REALLY matters to emphasize it at a time like this.
When the fraughtness of division and conflict and hatred and harm and hurt are all manifesting with the big broad collective strokes of competing worldviews and competing moral compasses and competing value systems, playing out daily all over the news.
Because I can't tell you, but I probably don't have to, how often in the past week I've heard people say "how are we supposed to 'love our enemies' when these folks are yelling x, y, z, or they're doing x, y, z, or they're promoting x, y, z".
But the response, truly, is that that's not what this passage is about. The pronouns matter. This is not Jesus teaching the gathered faithful how to deal with their collective 'oppressors'. Or with those whose shared worldview is marginalizing or dehumanizing some of them. This isn't Jesus teaching the gathered faithful how to deal with those who are "destabilizing goodness" or "threatening our way of life'. That's a whole separate question.
This teaching is about how to respond to hurt and harm that's personal.
And as much as it pains me to say it because I KNOW it's not easy on the ground, but what Jesus teaches his disciples and us in this regard in this passage is actually remarkably simple, at least in the sense of being 'straightforward'.
Because we do have such a tendancy to overcomplicate things. We forget that Jesus says to us as his followers "my yoke is easy and my burden is light". And the "way" that he invites us into here, when it comes to how to deal with those who hurt and harm us personally really IS quite straightforward. It's really just simply being humane.
Always, only, ever, being humane – thinking of other people, treating other people like they're human beings, children of God.
Always, only, ever, being humane. And if they're being a jerk to us? Staying that way. Instead of responding in kind. Instead of wanting to hurt BACK. Instead of compromising our own principles and our own character.
What Jesus is talking about here really IS as straightforward as always, only, ever thinking of other people and treating other people like they're human beings. And if they're being a jerk to us, staying that way. Calmly. Firmly.
Maybe even relentlessly. Like no matter how hard they try or how powerful they think they are, they can't make us a jerk too. Because we will keep. being. humane.
Admittedly, Jesus makes it all sound quite a bit more holy. It's the Apostle Paul who later relishes the cheeky pleasure of heaping hot coals on our enemy's head by relentlessly treating them like a human being.
But Jesus does nod in that direction too. Because notably – and crucially – neither turning the other cheek nor offering up our shirt too have anything AT ALL to do with shutting up and taking it or submitting to abuse. Because both of them are actually acts of resistance that Jesus suggests that are specifically designed to shame the perpetrator. And it's their perversion into weapons that have KEPT people in abusive situations that's been vile in the extreme. That wasn't his intent and that isn't what they mean. We get to turn our whole selves and get out. Turn the other cheek is only meant as an act of resistance designed to shame.
But with or without such quietly noted "benefits" of heaping hot coals on a big jerk's head, the point Jesus is really making here in this passage for us is about establishing for ourselves the character of being humane.
Of treating other people like human beings, children of God. Always. Calmly. Firmly. And if necessary? Relentlessly.
That's the sum total of what the word we translate as "love" in this passage – the Greek word agape – that's the sum total of what it means. Being humane. Thinking of other people and treating other people like human beings. Instead of DE-humanizing them with insults and attacks and hitting and hurting. Even when they do these things to us.
Essentially, it's inwardly refusing – over and over and over again, as often as we need to – it's inwardly refusing to allow jerks to make us jerks TOO. These enemies we might have who've hurt and harmed us... personally.
Which is frankly hard enough, isn't it. On purpose staying civil. Not reacting tit-for-tat. Not hurting back and not even hoping they'll get what they deserve. It's frankly hard enough on a personal level. Without us imagining it's also supposed to translate on some sort of collective level.
But it isn't. Because pronouns matter. And Jesus, throughout this teaching, he's using singular pronouns. Love your enemy – stay relentlessly humane – it's a teaching for EACH of us individually about OUR personal enemies and about direct personal harm.
And so all the angst there's been around this week notwithstanding, it was never meant to serve as some kind of lesson for how as Canadian Christians we're called to cope with the exploitation of a very specific political protest into a rage-farmed worldview that's now feeling like an enemy. Lurking and rising and threatening in our midst.
Because we're not called to "love" that enemy in all its amorphous looming. We're not called to be "humane" toward it, as though it's a child of God.
Toward individual people on a personal one-on-one level, absolutely. But we are not called to "love" the enemy of a worldview that privileges hyper-individual "freedom" over responsibility for one another, as though it's a child of God.
It's not. It is utterly inconsistent with the goodness and vision of God, and so our call as Christians is to bear witness against it. Calmly and firmly and relentlessly.
Upholding a worldview in which it's not just I and Me and Mine, it's Us. Because pronouns matter. Amen.