This This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke forms a small part of what is called Jesus’ sermon on a ‘Level place’ (6:17) which is parallel to what is known in the Gospel according of St Matthew as the ‘Sermon on the Mountain’. (Chapters 5:7).
According to the Evangelist Luke, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray and spent the whole night praying to God (6:12), then He called His disciples and chose from them twelve of whom He called Apostles. He then went down with them and stood on a level place, He and all His disciples, and a great multitude of the people who came to hear Him and be cured of their diseases. Jesus chose His disciples on the mountain, but He did not remain on the mountain with them alone but went down to the crowds who were eager for His teaching and His miracles. We then read that “He lifted up His eyes towards His disciples and said: Blessed are you…”’ (6:20). This constitutes the beginning of the Beatitudes. Of the eight beatitudes of Jesus in the Gospel of St Mathew, the gospel of Luke condensed them into four.
The Beatitudes represent new teachings completely different from that of the Scribes. Jesus does not stress the Mosaic law, but rather gives new teachings rooted in love and mercy, an example for how to live through the love and mercy of our Heavenly Father. Jesus declared, “He did not come to abolish, but to fulfill,” that is, to give what is complete in spiritual perfection.
The Gospel of Luke is the gospel of mercy par excellence. In it, St Luke talks of Jesus’ declaration that God is merciful (e.g., through the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan), and that the kingdom of God begins with mercy (e.g., through the freedom of the captives, light for the blind, and salvation for the oppressed (4:18-19).
Jesus talks in this specific part about loving our enemies (6:27), then explains how we translate love for enemies into actions. What must I do for my neighbour and for my enemy?
In the Old Testament, the faithful Jew used to pray against his enemy, the Psalm says on the tongue of the one who prays: ‘Rise, O God, resist him, and defeat him. Deliver my soul from the hypocrite with your sword’ (Psalm 17:13). The scholars of the law and the scribes spoke in the Old Testament about the love of neighbour, and some of them went further than this, saying: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread, and if he is thirsty, give him water,’ (Proverbs 25:21). Tobias the Elder gave his son the following commandment: ‘What you do not want for yourself, do not do to anyone but yourself,’ (Tobit 4:15). The Greek philosophers knew this rule a long time ago. The Stoic philosophy speaks of human solidarity based on “what you do not want to be done to you, do not do unto others”.
But in all the above, we see this rule as repeatedly reflected in passive connotations. Christ takes this rule and gives it light; He explains it through a positive active form: ‘As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.’ The predecessors present the rule that we should not cause evil to others, but Jesus asks us to take the initiative and do what pleases not only our neighbour, but our enemy as well. In this, we see a vast difference between what the ancients prescribed and what Jesus advised: We not only abstain from sin and malice but do good.
One of the holy fathers says, “Our judgment will not be for the evil that we did not do, but for the good that we could have done and did not do!” A disciple of Christ is not satisfied with not doing evil, but he must do all the good that he can. How much we love ourselves is the measure of our love for the other; Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Luke the Evangelist speaks of love, benevolence, and giving, Jesus says:
“If you love those who love you, and do good to those who do good to you, and lend to those who lend to you, what credit is that to you? If we love only those who express their love to us, then we are no better than the sinners.”
Charity, goodness and giving should not be based on reciprocity as in: I love you only if you love me, and I lend to you only if you lend to me. Here, the Lord Jesus speaks of taking the initiative in charity, goodness, and giving. The Christian takes the initiative without expecting a reward, “expecting nothing in return” according to the Evangelist Luke’s expression. The love of the Christian person is an active love, “Our love shall not be with words or with tongues, but with deeds and truth,” (1 John 3:18).
It is possible for any human being to show sympathy only by feelings, but the Christian person also shows charity by deed and action. Charity is greater than sympathy as a man can have sympathy for a beggar and yet pass him by, but a charitable and merciful man will have compassion for the beggar and help him.
Good should be done to all without discrimination on the basis of whether the receiver loves us or not. The Christian person should imitate God, who bestows good on everyone openly and secretly. The wages of love and charity without expecting anything in return is sonship to God, that is, ‘to become sons of the Most High’.
Jesus ends this passage by saying: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” In the gospel of Matthew, it ends with: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (5:48). These words are inspired by the Old Testament book of Leviticus: “Be holy, for I am holy,” (Leviticus 2:19). Matthew told us about perfection and Luke about the mercy that is dear to his heart. Mercy, according to Luke the Evangelist, is how we are to achieve an imitation of God. Amen.
+ Metropolitan Basilios