“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. …
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-28, 35-36
for Sunday February 24, 2019
Wednesday it snowed. Flakes fell fast and the ground was cold so they stuck and they stacked, and soon the sight through the window was of shades and shadows of grey — from white to blue to dove. After the snow came some freezing rain, skimcoating the ground with an icy glaze. By night, the streetlights seemed to show a frozen world. All stiff and still.
Thursday it was warm. The sun and the temperature rose together. In the afternoon I took a walk. The snow was much melted. The white cover persisted in the shade, rapidly sagging, showing more and more of the color beneath. The snow and the earth were softening into each other. I saw the wheaty-green of wintertime grass, the squelchy brown of mud showing through. Snowmelt gurgled in downspouts and ran along the edges of the road, glinting and glimmering as it rushed downhill. Its motion flashed in the sunshine.
How do we have a conversation? How do we have a dialogue, an argument — in the best sense of the word? How do we define the issues, limit the dispute, carefully explore each point of view? How do we come to mutual understanding even if not common agreement?
I am a professor. In class I talk. I review the readings; I add information; I invite discussion. Sometimes there is little answer. The information feels too new or there is too much of it. And I stand there as an expert, which itself can inhibit response. I have learned to ask “What questions do you have?” not “Any questions?” I try to listen and not rush to fill the pauses. I am still working on it. But I try, not just for the sake of my students’ learning, but for my own. Because the possibility for surprise flows both ways. Because it is delight when the talk takes an unexpected turn, latches on to an overlooked detail, makes it new for all of us. Makes us newly alive.
Why conversation? you wonder. Why listening and speaking when Jesus is talking about love? Love your enemies, do good, bless, pray. There’s nothing in that list about listening.
No. But Jesus’ four-fold litany — love, do good, bless, pray — is addressed to “you who are listening.” Listening, it seems, is the prerequisite. Listening is the beginning. Love, it seems, starts in listening. In listening to Jesus’ speech. In listening to each others’ speech. Not just passively allowing the sounds to flow past our ears, but listening with our whole hearts and soul and strength and mind (Luke 10:27). Listening, expecting nothing in return, listening even to our enemies, those who hate us, who curse and abuse us. For our Father is merciful to the ungrateful, even to the wicked. Our Father listens even to us (Luke 11:9-10).
Jesus is talking to us. Not to our enemies. We who are listening are the ones addressed, the ones invited to respond. Whole-hearted listening is the start of our loving; and love continues in whole-hearted speech. We are not meant to stand frozen stiff and still in pristine purity but to turn towards each other, to soften into each other. To listen and love and do good and bless and pray.
May there be space for words and space for silence. May there be openness to the possibility of mutual surprise. May there be the delight of new sight, of unexpected understanding. May we be each transformed by the encounter. May we know communion.
See! We are having a conversation! See how it burbles and glints as it flows!