Wanting to win is human nature. Whether in sports, commerce or even arguments, we want to have our way. And if we can’t win, we want at least to lose honorably. When a sports team loses by one point, they feel much differently than when they are obliterated. To lose badly is completely demoralizing.
But so often in life, there are those who profit from abusing others and seem never to face justice. When I think about the United States’ genocide of Native Americans or the 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it makes me furious that I can’t think of anyone who paid for these crimes. On the contrary, the list of people and institutions that benefited from America’s original sins is long and distinguished.
Into this depressing frustration steps the God of Scripture, ordering us, “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers … [D]o not fret over people who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices” (Psalm 37:1, 7). The ways in which evil actions and schemes enrich those who perpetrate them is not to disturb me (even though it does).
Rather than worry about those who do evil, we should heed Jesus’ command that we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:27-28). If we return evil for evil, we fail this profound commandment. When our moral calculus prevents us from welcoming the neighbor because we fear being taken advantage of, we are disobeying Jesus.
At the same time, if we simply roll over and allow evil to spread, we aren’t loving anyone. Jesus demonstrated strong love by standing up to evil, testifying against it, and then ultimately showing the forces of sin, death and empire to be powerless in the face of God’s love. Those who turn the other cheek when slapped and give more to the clothing thief than demanded (Luke 6:29) aren’t doormats. They prove that their strength and love are not lessened by the evil done to them. That is the kind of love that Jesus tells us to act out.
Rather than worry about those who do evil, we should heed Jesus’ command that we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us.
Jesus continued, though, and this is the part that shames me. He asked, “What credit do you get if you love those who love you, return good for good, and loan to those who you know will pay you back? Even sinners do those things!” Truth be told, I don’t always do those things. I don’t always love my sons as well as they love me. When my wife does nice things for me, I should appreciate and return the favor, but sometimes I expect her to do even more. Jesus wants his followers to do way more than the bare minimum.
Jesus did not always explain his teachings. He spoke frequently in confusing parables. But in this section from Luke, Jesus tells those who listen to him why they should love their enemies profligately and go above and beyond mere reciprocity. Because God is kind and merciful to everyone—even the ungrateful and wicked—we, who want to be regarded as God’s children, should emulate our heavenly parent. We are to love like God loves. God’s love ultimately led Jesus to give up his life for us. God’s love also inspired the tongues and pens of prophets throughout the ages, who testify to God’s demand for justice.
I love these places in Scripture where we are invited to emulate God. Of course, we will mostly fail, but that is no reason to stop trying. The psalm from this week puts it this way: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (37:5-6). We need not fret that the wicked seem to prosper. We are responsible for loving our enemies, testifying to the truth of God’s justice and righteousness, and bearing witness to the extravagant love of God.