Sermon thoughts for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24th February 2019
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Luke 6:32
Jesus looks deep into the hearts of his listeners and knows exactly what human nature is like. Insights developed by researchers centuries later are here in the pages of Saint Luke’s Gospel. Today’s verses from Saint Luke Chapter 6 anticipate the insights of psychology and sociology in our own time about the ways in which we treat other people.
One of the ideas from sociology that is anticipated by Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading is that of social closure. Social closure has been defined as the ways in which groups maintain themselves by the exclusion of others from the group. Jesus warns against social closure. In Saint Luke Chapter 6 Verse 33, he says “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Yet social closure is to be found everywhere and social closure prepares the ground for enmity and hate
In the days following the end of World War II the Allied soldiers who had occupied Germany were under orders not to fraternise with the German civilians. Faced with the plight of millions of people displaced and in poverty, the Allies quickly became friends with their former enemies – it is hard to hate people you truly know. Those post-war years saw an unexpected acceptance of Jesus’ words in Verse 35, “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”
Is dislike of others a necessary part of who we are: do we need to dislike someone because they do not belong to the same group as me?Everyone would be able to quickly call up examples of social closure, of times, perhaps in childhood when they were excluded from something, or perhaps when they excluded someone else.
Social closure arises from fear and suspicion; the unknown worries us. When the unknown becomes known, most times the fear disappears. What Jesus asks of us in the Gospel is that we resist social closure , that we are prepared to step out towards other people with the hand of friendship.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” Jesus’ words in Verse 37 run contrary to all of our inclinations. Our natural response to being hurt is to want to hurt the other person; our natural response to suffering wrongdoing is to wish to get even. Jesus is not condoning wrongdoing, he is not saying that we do not have grounds for feeling angry at times, he is not saying that we should not feel hurt at the treatment we receive. He acknowledges that the good in the world must live alongside much which is bad, saying God, “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”.
What Jesus is asking of his followers is that they resist social closure, that all ideas about “us” and “them” are rejected. Instead Jesus suggests that responding to people on the basis of love, rather than on the basis of anger is far more likely to bring results—to whom are they likely to listen the most, those who are friendly towards or to those who are hostile to towards them?
Jesus’ teaching is not some piece of abstract philosophizing; if Christians are to have an impact in our world, they must be different from those around us; they must show in their lives that they are Christians.
“The measure you give will be the measure you get back”, says Jesus. It sounds a very common sense piece of advice. When there is the temptation towards social closure, when there is the temptation to take sides, when there is the temptation to condemn others, Jesus is saying that the treatment given to others will be reflected in the treatment received from God.
It is very easy to for people to slip into the attitudes of a closed group, to put loyalty to the sets of values of the groups to which they belong ahead of loyalty to Jesus. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading are a to break ranks, to be different; even when it may seem foolish, to be a good and generous neighbour. There is no promise that obeying his words will bring popularity, no promise that resisting social closure will be well received, no promise that loving enemies will not bring hostility from both sides, the only promise is that “you will be children of the Most High.” Is the promise of being children of the Most High enough to break the bonds of social closure?
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