Seventh Sunday After Epiphany

A couple chapters after the Gospel reading in Luke 10, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. He tells that story in response to a question. Jesus is asked by an expert in the law, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, “What is written in the Law?” To which the man responds by quoting the Shema, Deut. 6:4 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” The man then asks the question that results in the telling of the parable, “And who is my neighbor?” And the answer at the end of the story is that all people are our neighbors, even those who our society considers as other. “Those people” over there who do not look like us, think like us, worship like us. The Samaritans were culturally other, they were despised by the Jewish people of the time, as a result of cultural differences. And yet, they are to be considered neighbors, worthy of being cared for. This story came to mind as I read the gospel reading, particularly in the first few verses.”But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” 

As a quick side note, “pray for those who abuse you” is not a mandate to remain in abusive situations. What comes to mind are situations of domestic violence. You do not have to remain in the situation while you pray for those who abuse you. Instead, I would suggest contacting community resources, such as the YWCA, to escape the situation.

As I read that verse, specifically, “Love your enemies,” I thought about a question, a version of the question that prompted Jesus’ parable, “Who are my enemies?” Our reflex response is that we don’t have any enemies, or that our enemies are a vague abstraction, “terrorists.” But practically that is almost meaningless to say. But I think it is a question that is worth reflecting on. But Jesus takes it even further and says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” If we are to forgive, and if we are to love, then we need to know who we are supposed to forgive, and who we are supposed to love. But we have to reflect on this question, even though it is a depressing one to do so, “who are those who have wronged us? Who are those who have hurt us?”

I reflected on this question, and my first response was to think in broad cultural terms. Which is not wrong or unnecessary, but it is easy. It’s people and groups that I don’t know personally and intimately and I can hold at an arm’s length. My first instinct was to think, specifically, of white supremacists groups. You may think that is a weird first thought, but I think it is derived from having several close friends who are Jewish. A couple weeks ago one of Melissa’s friends was here with us at Arbor House, Halli, who is Jewish. In a couple months we are going to be hosting our Seder, and a couple is going to help us come and lead it, Essie and Joel. Essie and I grew up going to the same camp. She found out in college that there is a significant portion of her heritage that is Jewish. And there are people in the world, in this country, Identity Europa in Rochester, who think that they should be rounded up and exterminated. And I struggle to know how to forgive them. At the same time I know that I have to stand against them, and while the two are not mutually exclusive, I’m not sure how to handle both. To stand against and to forgive. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean capitulation to. I may find a way to forgive the white supremacists, but white supremacy is still wrong and is antithetical to the kingdom of God.

How do I forgive those who I personally know? I had a professor in college who was like a mentor to me. We had a theological disagreement, and then he told me that I would kill the church. He also considered one of my friends as less than, simply based on her sex. She was a women and therefore, in his eyes, was not worth as much to the church as a man. How do I forgive that?

How do I forgive those who I intimately know? How do I forgive my father? My entire childhood is riddled with scenes that are shaped by his drinking. I remember coming home to find him passed out on the couch surrounded by bottles. I remember the arguments my parents had where he could barely string a sentence together. I remember the money that he stole to feed his habit. I remember having to go without more often than not as a result of his drinking. And I remember the day that he died as a result of his drinking, halfway through my senior year of high school. I remember how he wasn’t there to teach me how to drive, or shave, or change the tire on a car. He wasn’t there when I graduated from high school. He wasn’t there to help me move into my first dorm room. He wasn’t there when Melissa and I got married. In fact they never met. And he won’t be there when we have kids. How do I forgive my father?

We often wish that Jesus would have given us step by step instructions on how to deal with every situation, but he can be so unhelpful sometimes. But I think he does give us two examples that point us in the right direction. First, He says, “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.” This echoes what Matthew writes in ch. 5. The primary point that he is making is that to love your enemies means to not retaliate against them. This runs counter to our instincts as a nation, as a community, and as individuals. If people hit us we want to hit back harder.  But let’s also consider the thing about the cloaks. Walter Wink pointed out, in The Powers that Be, in that world if someone took your cloak and you gave them your shirt, you were now standing in front of them naked. Which is an, admittedly, strange way to go about things. But I think the point is that we are to show love to those who strike us even if to do so makes us look ridiculous. Second, he says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The golden rule. We love others by recognizing that they are the same as us. We can hate people by viewing them as other, but to follow the golden rule we have to recognize that we are the same and therefore ought to treat each other the same way. A commentator I read on the Cain and Abel story remarked that we are to be our brother’s keeper because we are our brother.

The golden rule and the saying “forgive, and you will be forgiven” also alludes to another important point. As we forgive, we too must also be forgiven. We must avoid the temptation to view ourselves as better than, and bestowing forgiveness on who we choose. Our service starting with the confession of sins is a recognition that we too are sinful people in need of forgiveness. To adapt the commentator’s language, as our brothers and sisters have sinned against us, we too have sinned against our brothers and sisters. Let us approach the task of forgiveness with humility and an open heart.


  • Chris Landon

    Chris Landon is the Lead Pastor at Arbor House. He is also the Pastor of Missional Engagement at Northgate Free Methodist Church. He has served at Arbor House since 2016. Prior to that he was the Summer Camp Director of Covenant Acres Campground and Retreat Center, Assistant Pastor at Gowanda Free Methodist Church, and Youth Pastor at Ransomville Free Methodist Church. Chris has a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Roberts Wesleyan University, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Northeastern Seminary, and is currently working on a PhD in Christian Theology (Old Testament) at McMaster Divinity College. His research interests include the books of Judges and Genesis, the narratives of the Old Testament and their application in the local church, and the intersection between Old Testament interpretation, contemporary politics, and Punk Rock. Chris and his wife Melissa have been married since 2014 and have three cats, Marcus, Minerva, and Nedjem. He enjoys playing paintball, video games, and listening to Punk.