A Christmas reflection for Friday, January 5th by Johnna Hayward Muniz
Lectionary reading for 01/05/2024: Psalm 110; Proverbs 22:1-9; Luke 6:27-31
Selected passage for reflection: Luke 6:27-31
Luke 6:27-31 NIV
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
When I read this Scripture, I immediately googled, "Wars happening right now." As of last November when I wrote this, there were over 15 armed conflicts happening. From Afghanistan to Gaza/Israel to Ethiopia, Myanmar, Paraguay, Yemen, Ukraine and beyond, we see the horrors of war. Togo, Ghana, Congo, Sudan and many other countries in Africa are facing some type of terrorist insurgency. Some of us have no connection to these places. Others are heartbroken because someone dear to us is involved. Still others have survived the terrors of war themselves (and that can be literal or figurative). As we begin a new year, I wonder what this year will bring to my feet concerning loving my enemies and doing good to those who hate me. As I walk alongside women in trauma, I can hear this passage more like "how to be codependent" or I wonder how a person who has been in relationship with someone displaying narcissistic qualities might hear it. Our society has come a long way to support victims of abuse and try to bring equality to those on the lower end of the power stick, but we still have a long way to go. Does loving your enemy mean staying in an abusive friendship or relationship?
As I reflect further, I'm struck by the action verbs. "Do good, bless, pray, turn, give" and then the passive responses, "do not withhold, do not demand it back." My favorite is the Golden Rule in vs 31, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." This concept is not only a white Anglo-saxon adage. It can be traced back to ancient Greece, Egypt, and India and it appears in many major religions. I don't get the picture that Luke, a doctor, interprets Jesus' words as calling us to be doormats. Instead, we are to use our voice, our power, our agency, to respond to evil by flipping the script. The human reaction is to fight back and cause pain, if not aggressively then passive aggressively. But the Spirit of Christ demands a certain lowliness, meekness, that rarely comes natural for anyone (at least that I know). Situated in Luke 6, this "Sermon on the Plain" sounds an awful lot like the upside-down kingdom mentioned in the "Sermon on the Mount" of Matthew 5-7.
This passage brings up a lot of complex thoughts for me. Yet there is a simple way of reading it summed up in the last sentence. Basically, treat others how you want to be treated. The tradition of the 12 steps (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) teaches that we are to "keep our side of the street clean". There are times when this means running as fast as we can from harmful people and situations and that "other" can also include ourselves. It means taking responsibility for my part. Here Jesus asks us to go a step further and find ways to flip the script so that we aren't adding to the violence in this world.
Some say this passage is what sets Jesus apart from the rest of religions and forms of spirituality in the world. Anyone can love their friends, but love your enemies? One thing I know for sure, I cannot do this alone. I pray that God's Spirit rises in me to do what this passage requires. And I pray that I grow in the practice of loving my enemies in 2024. So that I may participate in peacemaking and justice-spreading. So that I may be more like Jesus and take a radical upside-down stance against violence done to me or someone else.
Make a mental list of the enemies in your life, including God and yourself if it's that kind of season. Picture each face and imagine warmth and love surrounding them. Pray for all the good you want in your life to happen to them. If it's God and you don't want to do this, instead say this if it's true, "God, I don't want to bless you. But I want to want to. Change my heart."
Lord, some days I don't really like this passage. It asks too much of me. Replace my heart of stone with a heart of flesh and teach me how to love my enemies. Reconcile me to You, to myself, and to others. In the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the mysterious Holy Spirit who make the impossible possible.
About the Author
Johnna Hayward Muniz is a cross-cultural bridge builder in Lyon, France where networking through language learning, intercultural adaptation, refugee and immigrant support, and practical resourcing builds community. A trauma recovery companion to women around the world, Johnna resides with her Brazilian husband and two young girls where they run Meetup groups as global personnel in ECC Serve Globally.