Thursday, 20 October 2016

Grace to your enemies

I've been reading Gerhard Lohfink's book Jesus of Nazareth: what he wanted, who he was and although I don’t find his depiction of Jesus very stimulating, there are certainly some gems of insight here and there.

A section considering Jesus' command to love our enemies is one such gem. He comments on this speech by Jesus, as recorded by Luke:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:32-35, NIV)
… and starts by saying that the translation of "credit" is not very helpful. Other English versions use reward, thanks, praise, benefit and blessing, which perhaps are no better. But the Greek word, charis, has the primary meaning of loveliness, agreeableness … even charm or beauty. The majority of times charis is used in the New Testament it is translated as grace.

I'm nowhere near a level of understanding of Greek to question what the majority of translators have done in Luke 6. Nevertheless, with Lohfink, I like the idea of inserting grace into these verses. It appears in four places – three times in the positive, and once as the negative acharistous. What that reveals is something more like this:
If you love only within tribal or family boundaries, where is the grace in that? If you only do good to people who do good to you, where is the grace in that? If you only loan money when you're sure you'll get it back, where is the grace in that? But if you love and do good and lend to anyone – even your enemies – wow, that is a beautiful thing! That kind of charming, lovely grace is reward in itself. Those acts would show who your God really is! The God I know is kind even to those with no grace!

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