Over the course of history, many things have come and gone. Throughout these changes, some aspects of life have remained constant. Conflict is a persistent feature that has caused strife in the past, present, and will likely continue in the future. Within these contentious events, opposing sides often label each other the “enemy.” As history shows, these situations are likely to occur in an individual’s life; therefore it’s important to know how one should handle one’s self in such an event. Luke attempts to address this quandary in his passage, “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36).
Here, he conveys the idea that when dealing with opposition and enemies, individuals shouldn’t let the oppressor’s degrading actions shape our values, but rather act in accordance of the principles of merciful love that Luke states God exemplifies. This message is evident in the history leading up to the passage, when God acts mercifully towards Israelites who questioned his ways, in the text of the passage, when Luke depicts Jesus’ commands in his disputation speech as part of the Sermon on the Plain, and in our world today as wisdom for ethical living. The World Behind the Text: Historical Background and Social Location The historical time when Luke wrote greatly influenced the central theme he wanted to convey in “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36). By examining the aspects that made up the historical context such as the characteristics of Luke, the community he addressed, and the conflicts within that community, his theme can be found.
Moreover, these elements show how Luke wanted to convey the message that conflict can be conquered with the same merciful love and care that Luke depicted God acting with. The identification of who the author actually was, is important in showing how he wanted to convey the message that merciful love could be attained in his particular community. Identifying the individual is difficult to pinpoint because multiple sources suggest that the author of this Gospel never actually revealed himself.1 The time period in which he lived is difficult to identify too, but various accounts state that the author wasn’t an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. “Rather, he relied on his study of traditions, which came from ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word’.”2 Due to these notions of unconfirmed authorship, it is assumed that Luke is the author of the Gospel. One scholar states, “after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken him along with him as one devoted to letters, he wrote it under his own name from hearsay.”3 These quotes show that although Luke wasn’t a direct eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, he was still able to comprehend his teachings.
Therefore, in the passage, “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6-27-36), he was able to convey the Word of Jesus to his community that conflict can be overcome with the merciful love that Jesus claims God acted with. Along with who the author actually was, his cultural background related to the message he wanted to convey as well. It has been noted that Luke is a well-educated individual. He has been described as, “A gentile Christian . . . a native of Antioch, where he was well educated in a Hellenistic atmosphere and culture.”4 Many experiences from Luke’s lifetime suggest that he was an extremely selfless person. One scholar claims that he would “show a favoritism for minorities, segregated groups, and the underprivileged. Samaritans, lepers, publican, soldiers, public sinners in disgrace, unlettered shepherds, and the poor all received special encouragement in his Gospel.”5 The fact that Luke was well educated and showed special privilege to those groups of people both support his message of dealing with conflict with merciful love.
Moreover, his educated Christian background allows him to communicate with the victims of mistreatment or conflict and convey how they can still be children of the Most High by exemplifying merciful care. The members of Luke’s audience also show why Luke included this message in his Gospel. His community is described as having historical roots in the Jewish promise, but under intense pressure from the ancient Jewish community.6 There also seems to be an individual for whom the Gospel is directed towards – Theophilus.7 Scholars debate on whether Theophilus is already a Christian, or just thinking of becoming one. He does appear to be a man of rank who “has associated with the church, but doubts whether in fact he really belongs in this racially mixed and heavily persecuted community.”8 Lastly, Luke wrote for any who felt tension based in the minds of God-fearers before coming to Christ.9 Looking at this particular audience, there was clearly a lot of debate and discord caused by the emergence of the Christian church and Gentiles, in relation to the Jewish nation.
Luke addressed these concerns with his message of merciful care. Moreover, there were four main issues he addressed. The first was the question of salvation.10 More specifically how could Gentiles be included
as God’s people on an equal basis as Jews? Another concern was the largest portion of the community’s audience – the Jewish nation – who responded negatively to God’s altered plan. Often times, the Jewish people persecuted Christians who attempted to preach God’s new hope.11 Luke attempts to answer this quandary by noting the merciful nature of the openness of the Gospel and Christianity to those not of Israeli background. Moreover, he offers a sociological legitimation of full fellowship for Gentiles and a defense of the new community.12 The third question the community raised dealt with how a crucified Jesus would be able to deliver God’s message of salvation. They were concerned how he could continue to exercise a presence, and represent the hope God wanted to convey, if he was crucified.13 Lastly, they questioned what it meant to respond to Jesus.
Moreover, their concern was based on how to define Jesus’ mission and that of the disciples who followed him.14 Luke attempts to answer these final two questions by showing how Jesus commanded his disciples to act mercifully as part of his Sermon on the Plain. Moreover, Jesus’ presence – the presence of God’s plan – would be conveyed if Luke’s audience met the challenge of living as disciples of Jesus in acting with merciful love towards everyone. Looking back over the historical context in the time Luke wrote, each aspect helps support the central theological meaning of the passage. Moreover, each part contributes to Luke’s attempt to convey that the conflict between God and the community for which Luke wrote could be overcome with merciful love and care. First, this was possible because Luke was a well-educated individual who understood the ministry of Jesus even though he wasn’t a direct eyewitness. Hence, he was able to deliver the confirmation of the Word and the message of salvation in Jesus.
Also, Luke’s self-less nature allowed him to address victims of mistreatment and inform them that they should still act with merciful love and care so that they could be children of the Most High. Lastly, Luke addressed the concerns of his community, specifically Gentiles and Israelites, by providing a theodicy of God’s faithfulness to Israel. Hence, although not all of Israel believes in Jesus’ message, he would continue to reconcile with them by showing merciful care, no matter the dislike. In all, Luke was eager to stress the fact that Christianity was a world religion that recognized no racial limitations.15 He accomplished this by showing how merciful love can account for conflict just as it did with God in the history leading up to this passage. The World of The Text: Literary Analysis and Exegesis
As noted, Luke wrote in a time when conflict lined the relationship between the Israelites, Gentiles, and God.16 Conflict arose when Israelites questioned God’s loyalty to Israel as he now included Gentiles in his plan. In response to this situation, Luke showed God combating this displeasure not with rebuttal, but natural, merciful love.17 The passage “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36), a part of a disputation speech by Jesus, conveys a similar message. It entails an oral rephrasing of Jesus’ first part of his Sermon on the Plain. Luke uses several literary techniques such as repetition, various tones, and striking images to help convey his main message. In all, Luke uses these techniques to convey Jesus’ view that individuals should love everyone mercifully, including enemies. Repetition is the first technique Luke uses to convey his message to his audience. The command, “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27), is repeated in both the opening series of instructions, and in the closing series as well (Luke 6:35).
It has been said that although loving your enemies is only one theme among many in the Sermon on the Plain, it is the most dominant one.18 Therefore, Luke uses the command in the beginning to make sure his point is known, and in the end to make sure they remember it. This technique helps Luke show how loving your enemy comes to be one of the more dominant themes in the sermon. Luke uses another repetition in comparing radical examples of what love should entail, and what it shouldn’t. After each negative example of love, Luke repeats that “even sinners love this way” (Luke 6:31-34). By repeating this comparison to sinners, Luke emphasizes that a disciple’s love should be special, and greater than that of sinners.19 In all, both the repetition in the command to “love your enemy,” and in comparison to sinners, Luke conveys his message that individuals should exemplify a merciful love towards all.
Aside from repetition, Luke also uses various tones to help deliver his message. In the first three verses of the passage, Luke sets an emphatic tone when commanding his audience on how to act.20 Here, he conveys the message that, “it is easy to love those favorable to you, but this command to love enemies would be more difficult to carry out.”21 This emphatic tone helps display the forceful nature that Luke uses to command his audience in acting in such a loving way to everyone. In the next few verses, Luke exhibits a negative tone. As noted earlier, this part of the passage deals with the comparison of sinner’s love to merciful love (Luke 6:31-34). Luke uses this negative tone when providing the examples showing that a disciple’s love is to be different from that of a sinner’s love.22 One example is shown when Luke states, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Hence, the negative tone in that section conveys the message that it’s merciless to love in the way a sinner does, and we should hold ourselves to a greater, compassionate love. Luke then closes with a brighter tone in the last part of the passage (Luke 6:35-36). Here, he exhibits such a tone by describing the reward one will receive if they follow the commands stated earlier in the passage, and avoid the negative way of love that sinners exemplify.23 The reward is that they will be children of the Most High and act in a merciful way as Luke depicts our Father does (Luke 6:36). In all, Luke shows that if one follows the emphatic commands, avoids acting with negative sinner’s love, then one can reap the brighter reward of acting with merciful love as children of the Most High.24
Within those tones, and throughout the entire sequence of the passage, Luke employs images that provide a visual effect for each step of the process towards loving everyone mercifully. Luke first uses the image of “offering both cheeks” (Luke 6:29). It seems to symbolize that although someone may take our rights away when we attempt to help them, we should still be willing to help again and “offer the other cheek,” even though we might be hurt again.25 Moreover, Luke uses this image to show that although an enemy might hurt us once, that shouldn’t be a reason for us to never help them again. Another image is of an individual “giving the cloak and tunic” (Luke 6:29). Here, Luke shows that we shouldn’t retaliate when a crime is committed against us, but rather continue to act in accordance with the kingdom’s principle of forgiveness that Luke says God exhibits.26 By including this image, along with that of “offering one’s cheek,” Luke visually displays how we can act in a way that utilizes merciful love.
Throughout the passage, “Love of Enemies,” Luke uses several techniques to convey that all individuals should love everyone mercifully, including enemies. Luke accomplishes this by repeating key commands such as, “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27), and negative comparisons to that of sinners to make sure his point is known, and the wrong way to act is clear. He also employs different tones moving from emphatic, to negative, and finally bright. In doing so, Luke is able to convey his point of loving enemies mercifully, how to avoid wrong actions, and the reward for acting with proper, merciful love. Lastly, Luke utilizes striking images like “offering one’s cheek” (Luke 6:29) and, “giving the cloak and tunic” (Luke 6:29), to visually employ the notion of forgiveness that is key to loving everyone kindly. In all, Luke utilizes each of these techniques in an attempt to convey that individuals should exemplify a merciful, loving care towards everyone, including enemies. The World in Front of the Text: Hermeneutics and Theological Reflection
The literary techniques Luke utilized in the passage “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-26), and the historical culture in which he wrote both influenced why he included this passage in his Gospel. Moreover, the conflict instigated by the action of God including Gentiles as his people along with Israelites led Luke to incorporate the message that conflict can be overcome by acting with merciful love in such events. Also, if one acts with such mercy, then they can become children of the Most High (Luke 6:35). In today’s world, this meaning goes beyond the initial denotation of commanding one to love one’s enemy mercifully, by providing wisdom for ethical living. It provides the idea that merciful love is a characteristic we can develop over time if we act in line with the principles Jesus claims God exemplifies.
The opportunity to practice such principles is there in all of our lives; we just need to learn how to act as Jesus declares God does. Lastly, examining the bias this passage exemplifies shows its relevance today as well. As human beings, we are most likely going to run into conflict at one point in our lives. Many times you will see retaliation by the initial victim involved in these occurrences. Whether it is natural to that individual, or they are influenced by societal norms, it seems retaliation is the first response a lot of the time. Contrary to this action, the passage, “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36), seems to suggest that one should act with merciful love instead of directly retaliating, or harming others. For instance, when the Israeli people countered God’s decision to include Gentiles in his new plan, he didn’t do a single thing to retaliate; he just continued to act in line with the merciful principles of love that he carries.
For if he was to retaliate, then he wouldn’t be a greater individual than those who opposed him. Therefore, when an individual in contemporary times is faced with conflict, this passage suggests that that person shouldn’t retaliate out of hatred towards another person. Rather, one should exemplify the principles of merciful love, so they can develop this rewarding characteristic that God also exemplifies. After all, Jesus does state, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Luke’s depiction of Jesus as the lone speaker in this passage is an important bias relevant to the role of Jesus in our lives today, and the message he delivered. When Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Plain to the disciples, he stated they could be children of the Most High if they acted with merciful love as their Father does. Furthermore, Jesus was the only active presence in the passage, as the disciples simply listened intensively. This shows that in today’s world we should follow the message Luke depicts Jesus is trying to convey. Hence, we should exemplify the trait of showing merciful care towards all in order to become children of the Most High. Moving forward in our lives, the passage “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36) suggests that we can act with merciful love.
As individuals, we just need to continue to act in line with the principles of the type of love that Luke claims God exemplifies through Jesus. For when God was faced with those same challenges, Luke states that God continued to act mercifully. Hence, God exemplifies the characteristic of acting with merciful care towards all; and if we continue to practice the principles he did in our lives, then we can also possess that ability and become children of the Most High. Conclusion
Looking at the elements of “Love of Enemies” (Luke 6:27-36), one can interpret the overarching message that he was trying to get across. The history behind the passage, the text in the passage itself, and the relevance of the passage today, all contribute to the message that if we
continue to act in accordance with the principles of merciful love that Luke claims God exemplifies, then we too can act as God does, and consequently become children of the Most High. For when God encountered opposition from the Israelites as he included Gentiles as his people as well, he never retaliated; he just continued to act with merciful love. Also, when Luke depicts Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, the commanding nature and images he uses both show how individuals can properly act in accordance with the principles of merciful love. Hence, through looking at how Luke depicts God’s merciful nature when faced with opposition, then going on to reiterate the part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain that instructs us how we ought and ought not to act, individuals can learn how to act with merciful love towards all just as he claimed God did.