Loving the Unlovable
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 6:27–38
The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
February 20, 2022
“Loving the Unlovable”
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson are a tall order for us. They are part of his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49), which is Luke’s version of the more familiar Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5-7). In a world where we receive all sorts of messaging about seeking vengeance, getting even, and exacting our pound of flesh, Jesus calls us to a different way of life in his upside-down kingdom: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36). Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are the basis of today’s sermon, entitled “Loving the Unlovable.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
First, let’s look at the Old Testament lesson for today, the reunion of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:3-15). If ever someone would be justified in not forgiving and holding a grudge, it would be Joseph. Sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, separated from home and family, presumed to be dead by his father because that’s the story his brothers told their dad, Joseph held onto faith in the God of his fathers. Despite numerous setbacks, including being unjustly imprisoned, God watched over and blessed Joseph. Gifted by God in understanding and interpreting dreams, he rose to power in governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Under his wise leadership, grain was stored during seven years of plenty in order to have food during seven years of famine. It was during these years of famine that Joseph’s own brothers come to Egypt to buy grain (see Genesis 39-44). Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph does mess with them some, but he is testing them. And then, he can’t hide it anymore, but breaks down and reveals himself to his brothers. It would have been very easy for him to unleash all the pent-up resentment and bitterness against his brothers that he surely felt, but instead of vengeance and retribution, Joseph loves the unlovable as he says: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5-8a). Joseph understood that God had not abandoned him, even though his brothers did. God had a plan and purpose for his life. Joseph’s story resonates with us. There can be deep pain and heartache within our own families. There can be longstanding grievances and old grudges. Can we love the unlovable? As with Joseph, so with us, God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives today.
The truth is, we are the unlovable. As human beings, we are often quick to point out where others have offended us; have done us wrong; have sinned against us. We often see things only through the narrow lens of our own experience. But the deeper truth here, the spiritual truth, is that we are not the offended party – that’s God. We are the offending party. We are the ones who have done wrong and sinned against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and by what we have left undone. That realization of how far we have veered off-track from God is crucial. That realization is intended to bring us to a godly grief produces repentance which leads to life (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance which leads to life centers on the blessed truth is that God is at peace with us because God has already forgiven us. Through the cleansing blood of Jesus we stand in a restored and right relationship with God. God has loved us when we were unlovable, giving the life of his only Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This truth opens the door for us not just to receive forgiveness, but to give forgiveness. This truth opens the door for us to love those in our own lives who seem unlovable.
Recently, I became aware of an organization called The Forgiveness Project. “The Forgiveness Project collects and shares stories from both victims/survivors and perpetrators of crime and conflict who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma. Founded in 2004 by journalist, Marina Cantacuzino, The Forgiveness Project provides resources and experiences to help people examine and overcome their own unresolved grievances. The testimonies we collect bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit and act as a powerful antidote to narratives of hate and dehumanisation, presenting alternatives to cycles of conflict, violence, crime and injustice. At the heart of The Forgiveness Project is an understanding that restorative narratives have the power to transform lives; not only supporting people to deal with issues in their own lives, but also building a climate of tolerance, resilience, hope and empathy… We are a secular organisation sharing stories from all faiths and none” (Our Purpose - The Forgiveness Project). The website contains personal stories from people who have done the hard work of forgiving others as well as themselves when it would be easy not to do so. As one person wrote: “Forgiveness won’t change the past, but it can change the present, which is where the future starts” (Stacy Bannerman - The Forgiveness Project).
The love of Christ, which moved him to give his life for us, moves us to love and help those who either cannot or will not repay kindness for kindness, and love for love. God himself will repay the kindness and love. To love those who are good to us is really self-interest at heart, because we get something good in return for being good. But to give up that advantage, to show mercy and love to someone who is in no position to return the favor, this is what Jesus is talking about. It is a response to God’s love and mercy toward us. We cannot return God’s love and kindness toward us except to share this same gift with others. Loving those whom it is not easy to love, doing good to those who are not good to us, giving ourselves to people as Christ did is hard work. Jesus never said that it was going to be easy. But with his help, neither is it impossible. The upside-down kingdom of God which centers in Jesus is not some far-off dream. It is Christ’s calling to each of us today as Jesus lives among us here and now, helping us to love the unlovable. Amen.