Commentary on Luke 6:27-38
These verses continue Jesus’ teaching that put us hearers on a level plain/playing field (verse 17) with all those to whom Jesus once spoke: the twelve, the crowd of disciples and the “multitude” from all over the area. We all get to hear Jesus open such a different world view from our own that it can leave us gasping.
As in last week’s passage (Luke 6:17-26), the real power that gives Jesus credibility has been demonstrated before the speaking even began (dynamis, 6:19). We heard that “power came out of him” and healed everyone. Along with all those eyewitnesses who are important to the veracity of Luke’s story (see also Luke 1:2, Acts 1:21-22), the readers/hearers see that power upending the power of lesser, troublesome spirits. We see that Jesus’ own predictions about his mission were truthful and that they cohere with God’s promised outcomes for humankind. In 4:18-19, Jesus has called upon the ancient words of his own scripture to attest to God’s continuing purposes, which he has been anointed to carry out.
After the blessings and woes of the beatitudes put those same purposes in memorable form, Jesus issues a call to take notice. In verse 20, he speaks to his disciples (a larger group than the Twelve but including them). Our passage begins with a slight shift in the audience description. In 6:27 Jesus begins, “I declare to you who are listening.” One could emphasize the present participle and translate it as: “I declare to you who are still listening.” Then he begins to describe the way in which those in covenantal relationship with God are called to live. That leads to the second reality that can shake up hearers.
All that power that flows from Jesus is dedicated to and will bring about a very different world, God’s world. The power will level the playing field no matter what rules we have established to create and protect our positions. The thriving of all creatures in God’s realm requires a different ethos from those customarily in place. Jesus quickly lists a bunch of plural imperatives that describe behavior for those still listening. The very first imperative, “love,” is followed by some quite concrete examples. Do good; don’t just think well of, but do good too. Pray for, bless, give, do. This is a constructive ethos of behavior that will be summed up in verse 36 which is the basis for the examples Jesus puts forward, sums them up and is itself a touchstone for questions about how to live in God’s realm.
Those who follow Jesus are to live as God lives, mercifully and generous beyond expectation, beyond comprehension. The norm for the world is what “sinners” do very well indeed: they love, lend, and do good. In our own day, it would be a joy if even the way of sinners was broadly lived out! But for disciples, for God’s people, loving, lending, and doing good are all about generosity that does not draw boundaries based on the recipients’ responses. It is good to keep in mind that love in this passage is about willing the good for another and acting on that will.
The golden rule is insufficient for those in covenant relationship with (“children of,” verse 35) God. One’s own wishes for oneself are no measure for one’s treatment of others. Rather, God’s mercy is to be the measure for God’s people’s behavior.
In Mary’s song God is twice identified as merciful (verses 50, 54). In Zechariah’s, likewise (verses 72, 78). That mercy, a sign of God’s fidelity to God’s promises, creates a people who “might serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness” (1:74b-75). All gifts flow from God’s “tender mercy” and fidelity to promises made. In Luke 6, we see that generous healing, restoration, and hope flow through Jesus. Jesus makes sure we who are listening know that it is our calling as well.
Coupled with the power that flows out of Jesus so mercifully at the beginning of our passage, the power to do the healing and curing and casting out of spirits continues throughout the gospel and is a power shared by Jesus’ followers in Acts. That for which Mary and Zechariah longed, expressed in words from Israel’s great history of longing, comes to life. God’s power is present, a promise that the realm of God is no chimera or fantasy, but that it is being lived out on a level-playing field, indeed, a leveling playing field in the world of Jesus.
This longing for relationship is not something unique to the ancient world. Longing for a faithful relationship, where promises are kept, and roots can go deep, a relationship that can be healing and produce joy is not something we can relegate to the past. Jesus’ words to those who continue to listen, who “give heed” in that old-fashioned phrase, promise that we have a part in that relationship too. We are called to live in God’s realm in accord with God’s character and the power is there for us to do it, to be caught up, to be healed, to lose the hostile spirits that hold us captive, to receive and live mercy. There is no dearth of realities needing our best, most thoughtful mercy now.