So, do you think you would have liked Jesus as a preacher? Chances are – both yes and no. Yes, because we could not help but be drawn to him and be transfixed by the power of his message. And no, because like those in John 6, we would eventually come face to face with the uncompromising demands of the gospel, and also like many of his disciples who “turned back and no longer followed him.”
What strikes me about this Sermon on the Plain (if you will), is that in it Jesus presents life as it is in this world, and then challenges them to live in a counter-culture – the lifestyle of citizens of the kingdom of God.
For in the kingdom of God, if you are poor or hungry or bereaved or hated in this world, there will be a reversal in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom you will be rich and satisfied and comforted and joyful. And if your life has revolved around the things of this world – accumulating wealth, being well fed, filling your life with pleasure, being well spoken of by the people who matter – there will also be a reversal. You have already received your comfort, your wealth, your praise in this world. Do not expect God’s blessing in the next.
Jesus deals with a very real problem – how do you treat people – especially difficult people. Now, if you have never had difficult people in your life, you can tune out for a few minutes – you won’t need to hear what he has to say. But if you deal with difficult people, listen carefully.
You’re not going to like what you hear, because we’re used to the principle of reciprocation – give back what you’re given – somebody hurts you, hates you, hits you, curses you, steals from you – you give them the same back – only more so. In our human way of thinking, it just seems right, just, fair. It keeps things even. They strike you on the cheek, you bloody their nose – they curse you, you destroy their reputation – they steal from you, you burn their house down. That’s how life was in Jesus’ day. It’s not too different now..
But Jesus says, turn it upside down – “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).
Life is not about reciprocation or revenge. You should treat people, not how they have treated you, but how you would want to be treated. You are the thermostat that regulates the interactions. And you ask – what if they don’t respond – what if they keep treating me badly? This isn’t about them – this is about how God wants you to live. You keep treating people the way God would treat them. Let God worry about the response.
Why? It’s a God thing. None of this makes sense in this world. Our natural response is to love those who love us, do good to those who are good to us, lend to those who will pay us back. But Jesus says, that’s not how the kingdom of God operates – “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36). Our response isn’t natural – it is supernatural.