On a Sabbath, while He was going through the grain fields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1–26)
There are times when those opposed to Jesus seemed interested in dialog. They would outwardly say, in essence, “We like you, but you are doing things wrong and it is upsetting the apple cart.”
But they didn’t like Him. They hated Him! He was messing with their hold on culture. They were losing control. They were losing influence. They could see that the train was leaving the station and they weren’t on it. Until He showed up, they had favor, comfort and they were “right with God” because of their rule-keeping. Jesus didn’t play by their rules. But they thought they still had negotiating power. They thought they had power to determine the course of the train. They didn’t. They’d lost their opportunity to manipulate the narrative, from which they derived power.
This follows in Luke…
On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.  And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11)
They were filled with fury! We are witnessing upheavals in America that challenge us on so many levels; political, racial, cultural, religious. To quote a 60’s protest song, “There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” [For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1966]. I find myself asking, have I drawn battle lines? Am I planting myself in fields of opposition? From a faith perspective, how should I respond? As followers of Jesus, we have truth. Do I believe that means I am generally in the right with how I apply that truth about the world around me?
In this discourse in Luke, there are different responses from those around Jesus. Which response would be mine? What about relative to our current cultural challenges?
- Will I oppose the things I fear because they are confusing to me or threatening to my comfort?
- Will I stretch out my hand in faith and be healed?
- Will I get on the train with Jesus, as He is inviting me to do, and be part of a restorative journey?
As we keep reading, we come across this in verse 27…
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same… But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:27-38)
I don’t see a lot of room to draw battle lines in that. This is where he says, in verse 44, “each tree is known by its own fruit.” And then He finishes this discourse saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? It’s about obedience. He is clear, and yet I want to ask Him, as the Pharisees do, why are you asking us to do it that way? If I trust Him, I should just do it. Am I betraying something about Jesus’ call to love by critiquing our cultural contexts? Am I going to sit this one out rather than listening, loving and serving? I believe the Church is being challenged to put faith into action.
That was the mark of the early church – loving and serving even those who despised them. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, but within a generation, his nephew, Julian the Apostate, tried to use all the powers of the state to launch a pagan revival. He organized a parallel, pagan priesthood based on the Church leadership model. But he saw one obstacle above all preventing a return to the old ways: Christian charity. He wrote a letter in 361 to the pagan high-priest Arsacius lamenting their lack of success:
It is disgraceful that, when no [Christian] ever has to beg, and the impious [Christians] support not only their own poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” (To Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia, Julian the Apostate, 362)
Christian charity. This is where I reflect on all the opportunities we have had to love and serve our community during COVID. We are putting faith into action. I believe that wherever the church has been, the community around it should have become better for it having been there. To be part of what God has been doing here has been a unique privilege. There have been so many meaningful connections and conversations in the course of serving. When she picked up boxes for the 40 refugee families she is caring for, one Egyptian immigrant said, “In our culture, we don’t have people who give like you. If we don’t know you, if you are not one of us, we don’t see you. But you don’t know us and we are not in the same culture, but you care for us. You ask nothing in return. This is so amazing. I don’t even know how to express my feelings for you all. I am so grateful.”
This is God’s way. To pour out blessing lavishly through His people. And it is Old Testament, too. In Deut 15:10-11 we read,
You shall give to your [poor brother] freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10–11)
This is a command to we see beyond the temporal to see the eternal. Christian charity is a declaration that people matter.
I like to quote the great theologian Neytiri, from Avatar, who expressed this very thought when she said to Jake Sully, “I see you.”
We are never more like Jesus when we see beyond the battle lines and see the image of God in others.
That’s my prayer for us… that we would resist becoming immersed in battle, and instead get on the train, Jesus’ restorative journey, with only our trust in Him and a willingness our listen, love and serve those who He loves.