Love and Doing Good

This coming Sunday is the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time in which we are reading the second part of the “Sermon on the Plains” that began in Luke 6:17. In v.35 ff Jesus repeats the triplet of love, doing good, and lending/giving as challenges the listener to exercise all three actions freely, without obligation, and without the expectation of return. He is advocating an inversion of the social norms in order to establish a new people, a new family of different ethic and calling. What is the motivation? “…expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” Note that this is still “something given in return” but not from the act of one’s beneficial act or the gratitude of the recipient, rather, it is God who rewards them. In a new way, God becomes the great benefactor and protector, but not in a contractual manner – but in a covenantal way. It is not an exchange of goods or services or favor, but a giving of oneself wholly to the other even as the other gives one wholly to you.

God, in Jesus, has given God’s self wholly to the human race, even to those who, by  their ingratitude and wickedness, portray themselves as his enemies. Just as God is merciful—that is, just as God is active graciously and creatively to bring redemption—so should his children be merciful. Hence, the critical value is not reciprocity but behavior rooted in the imitation of God.

37 “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. 38 Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The dynamic of love, doing good, and lending/giving asserted in v.35 is now fleshed out. Jesus’ followers are to behave in certain ways toward others, and God will behave in seemingly symmetrical ways toward Jesus’ followers. The symmetry is only apparent, since v.38b borrows imagery from the marketplace to show the extravagant generosity of God, now compared to a merchant who is neither stingy nor fair to himself but excessively fills the measuring vessel. The practices Jesus outlines follow immediately and grow out of the practices of God (vv. 35–36). Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to “judge”—that is, to prejudge, to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies restated negatively. In an important sense, Jesus’ instructions are to refuse to act as those scribes and Pharisees had done in 5:27–32, as they calculated beforehand the status of those toll collectors and sinners and thereby excluded them from their circles of social interaction. By “forgive,” Jesus means “release” — that is, “release from obligations,” or “give, without expectation of return”; again, and throughout these two verses, Jesus states negatively what has been asserted previously. The one difference is that the reciprocity denied in vv.32–35 has been restored, with one telling exception. Jesus’ followers give freely, without dragging others and especially those in need into the quagmire of never-ending cycles of repayment and liability. And God will lavishly repay them.

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