The Power of Grace: Luke 6:27-38
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and it will be given back to you.
Love. Do good. Bless. Pray. Give. Lend. Forgive.
Of those seven simple admonitions, five from the first paragraph we will hear this Sunday alone, probably the most familiar is the one known popularly as the “Golden Rule–” the pivot or fulcrum of the total instruction Jesus gives us.
The Golden Rule did not originate in Christianity—in fact, I don’t think anyone knows where it first appeared—but it is certain that a similar dictum is found not only in Judaism in the book of Leviticus, but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, the Sikh faith, Taosim, Homer, Philo, Confucius, and even the Code of Hammurabi. That Golden Rule is so ubiquitous that it’s even been dropped into a song by the band Men at Work about an ornery kid named Johnny.
But, there is more going on here. Jesus calls us to the higher ground: our actions should not be based on reaction to others’ worst selves, but directed from our own will and ethical outlook. When we are confronted by those behaving badly, hurtfully, we cannot control that behavior. We also cannot presume to know the burdens they are themselves carrying. Jesus also calls us to the wisdom that those misshapen by anger, fear, and contempt win when they manage to misshape us, too. We do have enormous power to choose how we would prefer to respond. And that is a far cry from being powerless. It’s the power of choosing a different path—one built on the bedrock of grace.
Jesus offers us the wisdom that we may not be able to control others, but we do have the ability to choose how to respond. That response might not be immediate: sometimes it simply started with determining to not follow in the footsteps and behaviors of the person hurting them—which is, if you look, exactly what Jesus is advocating, too. For those of us who have encountered abuse and dysfunction in our lives, this power of grace is power indeed.
Jesus is not just prescribing but exemplifying how to begin living a God-shaped life. A God-shaped life, possible for anyone. Allowing us to begin freeing ourselves from cycles of pain— haltingly, imperfectly, tottering at times like a toddler, but each step setting out on a different path. A journey that may take a lifetime, but worthy of a lifetime’s practice and care for what it gives not just to ourselves but to those around us.
Jesus calls invites us to remember the filigree of grace which undergirds our own lives— the unearned love and mercy of God toward us no matter how much we screw up. The very foundation of God’s relationship with us is not punishment, but mercy.
Should we let the wonder of grace sink into our very marrow, it will change us. It helps us let go of our own calculus of inflicting suffering in response to suffering which is so much of the basis of human notions of “justice.” It helps us smooth out the balled fists of our hearts and open to the promise of a faithful God who overlooks our own faithlessness, of the loving God that calls us back from anger, fear, and everyday cruelties and sets us on living out a life based on compassion, empathy and love.
The power of this gospel reading is found in its promise of abundance at the very end: if we live a generous life toward others, we ourselves will find an abundance beyond measure, so much that it spills out of our cupped hands and into our laps.
Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.