The following sermon was pre-recorded for St George’s Transcona’s service for Sunday February 20, 2022. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking herePhoto by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash 


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of last week’s reading from Luke.  This section of the gospel is often called the Sermon on the Plain so today’s passage could be described as “Sermon on the Plain: Part 2.”[1]

To refresh your memory, part one was a series of blessings and woes such as:  “Blessed are the poor! But woe to you who are rich.”

Jesus opens Part Two by saying, “But I say to you that listen.” (27). New Testament Bible scholar Sarah Henrich notes that this phrase could also be translated as, “I say to you who are still listening.”[2]  How many people, do you suppose, have already stopped listening or left by this point?  It’s possible that the longer Jesus speaks, the smaller the crowd of people who are actually listening becomes.

Jesus knows that what he is saying is hard to hear. He knows that there will be many people who will chose not to listen.

His first hard teaching for those who are still listening is “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.” (27-28)

When I read those words for the first time as I was preparing this sermon my first thought was, “I really don’t want to listen to this either.”

Loving my enemies, doing good to people who hate me, blessing people who curse me and praying for people who abuse me have always been hard things to try to do.  Sometimes it’s been incredibly hard and I certainly have not always been successful or even willing to try. Sometimes I just want to hate my enemies, not love them.

Lately, it’s felt even harder to love my enemies.   The past few years have been hard on everyone and most people – including myself – are not doing our best right now.  We are all exhausted. Or whatever the word for even more tired than exhausted would be.  Our tanks of compassion, empathy and care for others are empty.

And it’s making it easier for us to see each other as enemies and to hurt each other instead of caring for each other. Even if we genuinely want to be caring, many of us have a pretty limited capacity to do so.

So I am tired. I am not doing my best and everywhere I look I seem to see people who are responding to the fact that they are exhausted and not doing their best in ways that well… in ways that make me furious.

In ways that make those people seem like they might just be my enemies. In ways that make Jesus’ words harder for me to hear than ever before.

If you feel this way as well, if you find yourself getting angry more often, or frustrated more often, or feeling mean spirited more often, or despairing and feeling completely hopeless about the state of the world more often, you are not alone.

And it’s really important to notice this in yourself and be gentle with yourself.  It is no small thing to have lived through the past few years.  It’s no small thing to know that there are still more hard times ahead. It makes sense to feel stretched way too thin and not be doing your best.

Be gentle with yourself because you deserve that kind of compassionate care. Be gentle with yourself so that you can find some space to slow down and respond to others from a place of compassion and not from a place of fear, or anger or reactivity.

Loving our enemies isn’t the only hard thing Jesus wants us to do. He also says, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also … Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (27-31)

One of the reasons these teachings are so hard to hear, is because in our modern times they have often been taught not as good, if difficult news, but as justifications for abuse.

And I want to say as clearly as I possibly can.  There is never an excuse for abuse and there is not a single teaching of Jesus Christ that can appropriately be used to justify abuse.

Even though many people have done so for many years.

All of the ways Jesus is calling us to treat people well who are not behaving well are about the manner in which we treat them.  Jesus is focused on our behaviour here. The only thing we are actually in control of.

It’s never a good idea to use someone else’s bad behaviour as an excuse to behave badly yourself.  When someone is behaving badly it’s never a good idea to choose to behave just as badly but it’s also not a great idea to give them permission to keep behaving badly.

Loving our enemies certainly includes refusing to accept abusive behaviour from them. Loving our enemies includes calling out inappropriate behaviour without resorting to inappropriate behavior ourselves. Loving our enemies includes putting laws and procedures and protocols in place that prevent people from behaving badly.

Loving our enemies often mean saying, “No. What you are doing is not OK.”

More often than not, the most loving thing we can do is behave well ourselves and limit their ability to continue to behave badly.

Ultimately their behavior is their responsibility, not ours, but we don’t have to feed it and give it room to grow.

Behaving well ourselves while not feeding someone else’s bad behaviour is what it means to turn the other cheek.

In our culture we would likely feel hurt and insulted if someone slapped us, but we probably wouldn’t spend anytime analyzing the mechanics of that slap for additional meaning. People in Jesus’ time would have.

Walter Wink explains that if we lived in Jesus’ time and I was going to slap you, I would use my right hand. Not just because I actually am right handed, but because in that culture, the left hand was used for what Wink politely called “unclean purposes.”[3]  It was your bathroom hand.

So if you’re going to slap someone, you would use your right hand, and you’re most likely going to use the back of your hand because Wink explains that this gesture, slapping someone with the back of your hand, not only hurt the person when your hand connected with their face, but it was a sign that they were inferior to you.  A backhanded slap was a way of asserting authority and dominance, of saying I am superior, you are inferior.

Now think about the mechanics of this for a moment.  If I slap you with the back of my right hand, I will connect with your right cheekbone.  If you then turn your left check towards me, the most logical way for me to slap you would be to use the inside of my right hand.

Except in order to do so I have to do two things.  First, I most likely have to look you in the eye when you turn your head.  Second, I have to slap you in a way that say we are equals. With the inside of my hand, not the back.

Turning the other cheek is a choice to refuse to meet violence with violence, or a slap with another slap, while also demanding that the person treat you as an equal.

I would have loved to have been in the room listening as the people who crafted the lectionary decided which passages should be read together.  Sometimes their decisions make a lot of sense to me. Sometimes they are utterly baffling.

Today’s combination of readings just seems a little bit too on the nose to me. Really?  Jesus talks about forgiving our enemies and you pair that with a story about Joseph forgiving his brothers?

It’s not a subtle pairing at all.

Here is a quick refresher on the story of Joseph that leads up to today’s reading:

Jacob has 12 sons and Joseph is his favourite.  Jacob makes no secret of the fact that Joseph is his favourite, he buys Joseph a special coat for example.  Jacob loves Joseph, but his brothers hate him.

The 11 brothers are in Shechem where they “pasture their father’s flock.” (12-13)

Jacob asks Joseph to go and check on his brothers, and Joseph agrees.

Joseph’s brothers have been moving with the grazing animals and are further away from home than he expected. This distance will make it easier for the brothers to carry out their plans without being caught.

Joseph’s brothers spot him long before he arrives and as they are watching him approach, they decide to kill him saying, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” (18-19)

Reuben however suggests a slightly different plan. Instead of killing Joseph, they could just throw him into a pit. And leave him.  Which may actually be worse, as he’ll likely still die of exposure or starvation.

Joseph meets up with his brothers, they strip off his special coat and throw him into a pit. (24)

And then the brothers go off to eat and while they are eating, Judah comes up with a new plan.  Why leave their brother to starve to death in a pit, when they can sell him and make a little money?  And that’s exactly what they do. They sell their brother to some passing traders for twenty pieces of silver and those traders take Joseph to Egypt. (28) This was a standard purchase price for an enslaved person between the ages of five and twenty. Joseph was seventeen.

Imagine being Joseph in that pit.  One minute you’re on a trip to see your family, the next you are naked and bruised and all alone in a pit, and then you are traveling with strangers to a strange land. Strangers who view you as property. And you know that most of your brothers wanted to kill you.  The brother who had the most compassion for you?  Even he was fine with selling you into slavery.

Joseph’s life in Egypt was also incredibly hard. He was enslaved, mistreated, assaulted, and imprisoned.  He was alone in a strange land and he was living with the knowledge of just how much his own brothers hated him.

By the time we get to the story in today’s reading, Joseph is doing much better. He has risen to a place of power and prominence in Egyptian society, but he still carries all the hurt and pain and trauma of those past experiences.

And then one day, his brothers appear. They don’t recognize Joseph at all, when they look at him, they see only a stranger who has the power to decide if they live or die.  Joseph has the power to sell them food in a famine that will keep them alive, or to refuse to do so.

Joseph sells them food, but he keeps his identity hidden for a long time, and he also puts his brothers through a series of tests. Tests to see if they have changed. Tests to see if they can be trusted.

And then in today’s story, Joseph is finally ready to tell his brothers who he is. Joseph is ready to forgive them.

Revealing his identity to his brothers also allows him to ask them a question I suspect he has wanted to ask since the moment he first saw them, “Is my father still alive?” (45:3)

He brothers are understandably terrified.  We are told that they are speechless, unable to respond. (45:3)

Actually they don’t speak in this entire reading, only Joseph does. Joseph gets to tell his story, how he has come to understand what happened, and how he has made peace with it. The brothers don’t get to interject at all, they can only listen.

One thing that I love about this story is that Joseph doesn’t minimize what his brothers did. He calls it out, “you sold me.” (45:4).

If he was still enslaved this interaction would have gone differently. It would have had to, because the first criteria of forgiveness is that the abuse ends. Full stop.   It has in this story, Joseph is no longer enslaved, and the brothers no longer have the power or the desire to hurt their brother.  Some of the tests Joseph put them through before forgiving them proved this.

It is from this space – the abuse has ended and will not continue – that Joseph offers his brothers forgiveness.

When Jesus is telling those who are still willing to listen that they need to love their enemies, he is speaking to people who would have known Joseph’s story. Stories like this and ideas of forgiveness and treating enemies with kindness were not new to them but his words would still have been hard to hear.

Not everyone was willing to listen to what he had to say. I wonder if we’re willing to listen. I wonder if I’m willing to listen. Jesus’ way isn’t an easy way, but I believe it is a good way. A way worth trying to follow.

The world is a hard place right now.  We have all been called to do so many new and unexpected hard things for such a long time and I suspect you are just as tired and stretched thin as I am.

Be gentle with yourself as you seek to live Jesus’ way.  It is hard, maybe even impossible, to love others while you are beating yourself up.

And you loved, and you are so worthy of love, including your own.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Part 2 of 3.  We don’t actually get part 3 this year because of when Lent begins. Next week we get the Transfiguration instead.


[3]  Walter Wink.  Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination,