Sunday Morning Greek Blog

February 20, 2022

Getting Naked for Jesus: A Lesson on Loving Your Enemy (Luke 6:27–38; par. Matthew 5:39–42)

Sermon preached February 20, 2022, at Mount View Presbyterian Church, Omaha, NE. The sermon text has been mildly edited and reformatted for publication.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I want to acknowledge the contribution of Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers, Chapter 9, “Jesus’ Third Way: Nonviolent Engagement” for his exegesis of the cheek slapping, garment forfeiting, and extra mile passages. Over the years, I have found his “Powers” series extremely helpful in understanding the concept of spiritual warfare.

Flipping the Script on the Good Samaritan Parable

I think most of us here know what the two greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And most of us know that when someone asked Jesus who his neighbor was, Jesus, in typical fashion, answered with a parable instead of a direct answer. That parable, of course, is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Just to set the stage, here, I’ll recap the parable: A man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and temple servant, that is, a Levite, two people who we’d think are most in tune with worshiping God, walk right by the man and offer him no help. Then a Samaritan, someone despised to no end by the Jews and outside of most Jewish “in-groups,” comes along and renders care to the man and gets him to a place of safety. When Jesus asked the Jewish law expert who was a neighbor to the man, the expert couldn’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan.” He answered, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Now as we come to today’s passage in Luke 6:27 and following, let’s take a different track on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Instead of asking “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” at the end of the story, how would we answer if Jesus had asked, “Who is the enemy of this man?”

Before we answer that question specifically about the Parable, or even about our own lives, we can make a broader statement about who the enemies of the Jews were generally, as that is important to set the context for Luke 6:27.

Who Is My Enemy?

In the first place, we can identify the obvious political enemy for the Jews: The Roman Empire. They were efficient and brutal in executing judgment against those who wouldn’t toe the line. They collected taxes and even recruited some Jews to betray their people and collect the taxes for them. This would certainly be at the forefront of every Jew’s thinking, which is why they had the expectation at the time that the Messiah would be a military leader who would free them from Roman bondage. But Jesus wasn’t just concerned about Rome.

We can look at the Beatitudes as well. Have you ever noticed that the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), which includes the Beatitudes, has as much to do with our relationships with each other as it does with our relationship to God? Just listen to a few passages from that chapter:

Matthew 5:11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. [1]

Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.[2]

Matthew 5:25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.[3]

Matthew 5:43‒44 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[4]

Matthew 5:11, 22, 25, 43‒44

They could have enemies within their own in-group, never mind the Romans. And those kinds of enemies can be the most painful to deal with at times. So with these concepts of who the Jews’ enemies were at the time, let’s turn to our central passage this morning, Luke 6:27‒36.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.[5]

Luke 6:27‒36

What Does “Loving Your Enemy” Look Like?

One big question we need to ask ourselves right off the bat is, if loving your neighbor looks like what the Samaritan did for the victim on the side of the road, what does loving your enemy look like if they’re the ones that put you on the side of the road? What is that kind of love in action? What does Jesus think will happen to the enemy, or to us, if we “love” them back?

Luke here takes the other side of the beatitude we looked at earlier. If you’re blessed when you’re persecuted, turn around and bless the persecutor. Again, what does that look like? Is just a matter of saying a few kind words or praying a quick prayer over the persecutor? Or does Jesus have something a little more transformative in mind here?

In Matthew’s parallel account of this in the Sermon on the Mount, he uses this teaching as a contrast to the Lex Talionis, the “eye-for-an-eye” principle of legal punishment in the Old Testament. So it would seem here that Jesus has in mind with this teaching the cultural and legal ramifications of our actions. There are much bigger principles at work here than just the day-to-day challenges we face, like getting cut off in traffic, someone putting a ding in your car door, or a neighbor not picking up after their dog has graced your yard.

Resistance Is Unfruitful

In Matthew’s version, he records Jesus saying: “Do not resist an evil person.” That word “resist” (ἀνθίστημι anthistēmi) is the same word used in Ephesians 6:13 about “standing your ground” or “standing firm.” The word is used quite often in passages about military battles, so it has the implication of not just staying put, but actively and at times violently resisting the enemy so they cannot push you back or overcome you. When Jesus says “do not resist,” then, he’s talking about not resisting violently, about not responding in kind.

What he’s NOT saying, however, and this is important to understand the passage, is let yourself get trampled over, and the examples that follow help us understand just how to apply this type of “love.” It also shows how this type of “love” he wants us to demonstrate can be the seed to transform a situation and possibly bring some redemption.

Slapping for Shame

The first example about loving your enemy, getting slapped on the cheek, has been sorely misunderstood through most of Church history, primarily because we have failed to recognize the historical context in which it is set. Matthew’s version is a little more specific than Luke’s version in that Matthew specifies the right cheek. He has a couple reasons for doing that. The first is that, when a superior wanted to shame or reprimand a subordinate, a soldier wanted to shame a subject, husband wanted to shame his wife, or a parent their child, the custom in that day was to use a backhand slap to the cheek. The other background piece here is that, for the Jews, using the left hand was taboo because it was used for “unclean” tasks. So the backhand slap always had to be done with the right hand, and the right cheek was the easiest target for that.

So what happens when you “turn the other cheek”? It exposes the left cheek for a backhand slap. But the taboo against using the left hand was so strong, no one would do that, and trying to do a backhand slap with your right on someone’s left cheek is pretty awkward. [Author’s note: technically, a backhand stroke starts on the opposite side of the body from the hand used; trying slap the left cheek with the back of the right hand would essentially require you to come straight on the person’s face, like a punch. It wouldn’t cross the body, and it would look ridiculous to an observer.] In other words, turning the other cheek is a sort of passive challenge to the abuser to subsequently either shame themselves by using a left-hand slap or losing the power dynamic by punching the person outright. In a culture that valued honor and scorned shame so highly, most people would think twice about bringing shame upon themselves or degrading their position of power or authority.

“But,” you may ask, “why not just punch someone with your fist?” Well, this is the final piece of the cultural puzzle: if you punched someone with your fist, as in a regular fist fight, that meant you considered the person you hit your equal in that culture. There would be no one-way expression of shame or insult. You would shame yourself by resorting to violating cultural norms with what would be considered violence.

So the popular and long-standing Christian misreading of this as letting yourself get beat up when someone slaps you has no basis in historical reality when it comes to what Jesus intended to teach here. The point of turning the other cheek, then, is not to passively get pummeled, but to deny or make it more difficult for the oppressor to continue to shame you. I mean, how is it “loving your enemy” to submit to a beating? This is one way, then, to “love your enemy.” The temptation for us is to respond to such shaming, which is a form of violence, with violence of our own, but this is not what Jesus wants for us, as he said in Matthew. Turning the other cheek is a way to fight back against the culture of shaming without resorting to violence. It is love for your enemy because it also forces them to make the choice to continue to shame by putting their own honor and shame on the line.

Getting Naked for Jesus

Let’s take a look at the next example of “loving your enemy,” giving up your underwear. Yes, you heard that correctly, folks. Jesus says to give up your underwear if someone takes your outer garment. The average Jewish person had a simple wardrobe: an undergarment, which in Greek was called a χιτών (chitōn), and an outer garment called a ἱμάτιον (himation). In the Old Testament, if you needed to borrow money from someone, you might be asked to give the lender your outer garment as a pledge to repay your loan. However, since many Jews only had one outer garment (there were no Duluth Trading Company or JC Penney stores), Jewish law said the lender must return the outer garment to the borrower each night so they could use it to keep warm while sleeping.

In some cases, a lender may get a little too aggressive in trying to secure a pledge for a loan. They would take a poor borrower to court in an attempt to secure the borrower’s outer garment indefinitely, without returning it to the borrower each night. This was not only a violation of basic human rights for the Jews, but an insult to Jewish law and tradition. Unlike the slap in the face, this wasn’t so much about shaming the individual as it was taking a cruel action to force the borrower’s hand to pay back the loan.

But shame does play a part in Jesus’s teaching about how to respond to such a tactic. Jesus teaches that the person who is taken to court for their outer garment should just go the whole nine yards and hand over their undergarment as well, leaving them essentially naked. But as we see in the story of Noah and his sons after the flood, the primary shame of nakedness is not for the one who walks around naked, but on those who view or even mock the naked person. So once again, instead of taking a more violent response toward the aggressor, Jesus tells his listeners to essentially put the plaintiffs and the judge in a position of shame by walking out of the court room naked!

Jesus’s point here, then, is that the loving thing to do is shame the oppressors and make them think twice about using the courts to compel violations of Jewish law and tradition. Maybe, just maybe, the oppressors would think twice next time about permanently withholding someone’s outer garment.

Going the Extra Mile, Literally

Matthew adds one more example of how to love your enemies: going the extra mile. Roman law allowed a soldier to compel (ἀγγαρεύω angareuō) a subject to carry his pack one mile. Jesus’s answer to this is for the person to go another mile with the pack. Here’s why: Romans seem to have strictly enforced this compelled service rule so they wouldn’t incur the wrath of the ruled, so going the extra mile would actually put the Roman soldier in danger of being punished for violating Roman law. The soldier may also take it as an insult, that the Jew perhaps thought the soldier hadn’t regained enough strength to resume carrying the pack. Again, this is a nonviolent way of making the oppressor, the power holder, think twice about pressing someone into service.

So to summarize these three examples that Jesus gives, loving your enemy would seem to be a little like tough love. Again, Jesus was not in favor of a violent retaliation against Romans or of a violent response to those who do us harm. He wants a response from us that will bring positive transformation to both parties.

Our Response

Verses 32–34 confirm that loving and being kind and compassionate to those in our in-group is no big deal. God expects that, and even sinners do the same for each other. In vs. 35, Jesus takes loving your enemy beyond the tough love of the first three examples. “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.[6]” Take the lead; take the initiative; and take the moral high ground when it comes to your enemies. Verse 35 goes on to say that even God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, so we should mirror that kindness.

Now earlier, I asked the alternate question about the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who was the enemy of the man beaten and left on the roadside?” The Samaritan was a cultural enemy of the Jews, but he didn’t act like an enemy to the man in need. Certainly we can say the robbers were his enemies. But what about the priest and the Levite? With all their supposed piety, is it possible they could be categorized as enemies as well?

Are YOU Someone’s Enemy?

Now I know some of you have probably never heard these Scriptures explained in this way before. It might be a lot to process about what it means to love your enemy. But let’s flip the script one more time. Who in your life or your circle of influence might consider you an enemy? Hmm? I don’t know about you, but when it occurred to me during my sermon prep this week that I needed to ask that question of myself, it made me squirm a little bit. Now it’s possible no one considers us an enemy, I’ll grant that. But many of us have experienced the heartache of a broken relationship, failed expectations from those we love, or maybe even not living up to our own expectations. Jesus takes us to the highest level of love in vv. 37-38:

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[7]

Luke 6:37‒38

In Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the solution for this:

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. [8]

Matthew 5:23‒24

If you’re struggling with loving your enemy, I would encourage you to find a good support group at a local church who can help you through any struggles you might have with that. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors AND our enemies as ourselves. There is no higher calling than this.

I own my opinions and my agreement with Walter Wink’s exegesis of these passages.

Scott Stocking

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[7] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[8] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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