In this portion of his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus offers us glimpses of the kingdom breaking forth on earth.
A disciple is hated and responds with love. A disciple is cursed and responds with blessing. A disciple is abused and responds with prayer. When encountering a beggar, a disciple gives. When having things stolen, a disciple does not seek repayment. Again and again, in situation after situation, Jesus reveals one principle that rules over all. Mercy. "Be merciful even as your Father is merciful" (6:36).
What delights me about this list is that these are only moments. Moments of mercy. By listing a series of situations in rapid succession, Jesus overwhelms us with how practical, how real, how tangible, how concrete, how utterly achievable life in the kingdom can be.
We don't need special skills to be a Christian. Having received mercy, we offer mercy. We don't need to surround ourselves with only certain kinds of people. When confronted with anger, disparagement, and rejection, we suffer. When coming across those who are homeless, helpless, and hopeless, we love. We continue to live in the world, but we do so fully invested in our daily lives because we know that the kingdom of God is present here. Anytime and everywhere, moments of mercy can break out in our world.
The beauty of this is that moments of mercy can be quite powerful. God can use a moment of mercy to change a person's life.
I think of Victor Hugo's literary masterpiece Les Misérables, where he unfolds how a simple act of mercy changes a criminal's life. Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister's children, has been marked for life. He will always be a convict, forced to display his yellow passport and be treated like an outcast. When passing through a town, he cannot find a place to stay and ultimately is offered refuge in a clergyman's home. Jean Valjean responds to this gracious hospitality by stealing the household silver. When Valjean is caught and accused, the clergyman says the silver was a gift and that Valjean had forgotten to take the candlesticks as well. In Hugo's story, this one small moment of mercy becomes the beginning of a lifelong transformation.
Hugo's literary imagination echoes the words of Jesus in our text. "From one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either" (6:29). In the hand of God, one small act of mercy can be the beginning of new life for the lost.
In the hand of God, one small act of mercy can be the beginning of new life for the lost.
To those fully schooled in the ways of the world, this way of the kingdom seems wrong. Unjust. You should defend yourself, claim your rights, guard your possessions, and repay evil with evil. But in the kingdom of God, moments of mercy are the wrong that makes things right.
Consider how Christ made us children of the kingdom. He came to us in our sinfulness and bought our lives with his innocent suffering and death. As Luther reminds us, "he has redeemed me . . . not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death." The death of Jesus is the wrong that makes things right.
God, the Father, sent his Son into our world to be the spring of his bountiful mercy. By his death and resurrection, Jesus opens a fountain of mercy that has a never-ending stream. Just as water can awaken life in soil that has been dry and dead for years, so too God brings life in the wilderness of our world through moments of mercy.
This is important because we live in a world that has lost sight of mercy. Our culture is changing. We are becoming a cancel culture. In a cancel culture, if a moment of sin or error is uncovered, then the one who committed that sin is canceled. A text message from twenty years ago containing a racial slur is enough to cancel the career of a sports announcer. It doesn't matter that a teenage boy can grow and change and even repent of his earlier actions. The answer to sin is cancelation. Not forgiveness. And certainly not restoration.
In a cancel culture, the cure actually kills the patient. Cancellation purifies by exclusion. It sanctifies by silencing. And soon our streets will be filled with people who don't matter.
Into such a world, Jesus speaks these words to his people. He awakens in our lives an echo of his grace. Repentance, forgiveness, new life are foreign concepts in a culture obsessed with canceling. But in the kingdom of God, these are the ways of God's working. So, it is a blessing not only for us but for our world that Jesus comes and speaks these words today.
He reminds us that the kingdom we live in is a kingdom of grace, with moments of life-changing mercy breaking out in our world.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 6:27-38.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 6:27-38.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 6:27-38.