Weekly Bible Devotional
November 21, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Luke 6:27-36
“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 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? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Notes on the Text:
The scripture reading for this week is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (in Matthew, it is known as the Sermon on the Mount). This sermon is often used as the blueprint or training for Christian ministry. The disciples of Jesus were being taught and apprenticed to continue and expand his mission. This section of the teaching program is about dealing with enemies. The teachings of Jesus seek to change the rules of social interactions about reciprocity.
Jesus wanted to turn the values of his followers and the people of his time upside down. They lived in a society where people believed in quid pro quo interactions among people. In that world, only the people who benefited each other or those in our families were deserving of our help and love. Only those who had privilege or were considered to be of use to the powerful were included while those deemed “not useful” were left out. That kind of world is built on scarcity, fear, and violence and will always end up trapping us in the same cycles of fear and competition fear. Jesus invited his disciples and continues to invite us to practice a radical kind of generosity of Spirit. Jesus came from a long line of people who knew about the importance of forgiveness of debts and allowing people multiple and continuous chances to work and live freely. His ministry challenged people’s perception of reality and of the social norms and structures that kept people down. Instead of looking at the world as a place for competition, the challenge Jesus issued was to see the world as our stage to practice cooperation because there is enough for all of us when we work together. God created the world with a vision for sharing and interconnectedness. Holding grudges, loving only those who are loveable, lack of generosity, and fighting evil with evil only breed much of the same tired old stories of pain and violence. Loving generously like God does by seeing the potential in all can lead us from death to life and from fear to freedom.
Even when it came to the lending practices of his day, Jesus offered a different vision. Normally, people would lend money so that they would get interest or special recognition. Both were against God’s vision. Here is one example of that teaching from Exodus 22:25 “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” Jesus’ vision reflected God’s desire for a society that was built on sharing and care because that is the nature of God and the universe which God created. The patronage system of the ancient world was based on a benefactor giving, and the one benefiting praising them in public. In that system, a person’s social and economic status depended on what they owed to others or what they were owed by others. But in the kingdom of God, in Christ’s vision for the world, one’s status is defined by their belonging to God. All are children of God equally and thus are loved by God. Our identity as children of God is more important than any social status or human system of debt or ethics. The ministry of the disciples was to be based in their identity as children of God. That was their work. Once they became aware of that grace, they were to share it with others. This is not about ignoring the bad or unethical behavior of others. It is instead about allowing grace to emerge in all of our connections. It is a grace-based type of economy.
We are often taught to treat people the way they treat us. Jesus invites us to treat others as we would want them to treat us. That is tough to practice, especially in difficult and challenging situations.
Gratitude can help us to transform our human systems that are built on quid pro quo interactions and principles of scarcity. Gratitude is about recognizing God’s unconditional love for us which is based in our identity as children of God. It also helps us to remember our interdependence and our need for others. If we base our lives on God’s values of grace and generosity, we can learn to let go of our fears and human divisions. The whole human experience would be transformed into focusing on sharing and care instead of owing or being owed.
Diana Butler Bass writes, “Gratitude is defiance of sorts, the defiance of kindness in the face of anger, of connection in the face of division, and of hope in the face of fear. Gratefulness does not acquiesce to evil -it resists evil. That resistance is not that of force or direct confrontation. Gratitude undoes evil by tunneling under its foundations of anger, resentment, and greed. Thus, gratitude strengthens our character and moral resolve, giving each of us the possibility of living peaceably and justly…Gratitude… invalidates the false narrative that these things (pain, suffering, and injustice) are the sum total of human existence, that despair is the last word. Gratitude gives us a new a story.”
This week’s prayer is a video with beautiful images and words by David Standl-Rast:
by Diana Butler Bass
Quote from Grateful: “Opening our hearts to the constant flow of receiving and responding to gifts–the reality that surrounds us all the time–makes us both more grateful and more generous.”
Awareness: What a beautiful vision of the world: abundance! Gifts constantly flow around us like a river. And we can live in that flow. When I became more deeply aware of gratitude, I began to understand that every one of us is simultaneously a receiver and a giver. We cannot give without having first been gifted. And we cannot truly receive without recognizing that we are all mutually dependent on the good work and generosity of others.
Do you focus more on scarcity–what you don’t have–than the gifts that are present in your life? What would it mean for you to trust in abundance?
Practice: Give a gift today to someone who does not expect it. Nothing expensive. Something small, thoughtful, and surprising.
- What did you feel when you gave?
- How did the recipient respond?
Jot your responses in a small notebook or on your cell phone. In the evening, review and reflect on how abundance and generosity is present in your life.
Prayer: The poet Wendell Berry once wrote, “What we need is here.” May the wisdom of this insight be ever-present to my heart–and may it turn my attention toward abundance. Enable me to live generously in this realization, sharing gifts with no expectation of return. Amen.