“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Lk. 6:32).
If our Gospel reading sounded a little out of focus this morning, it was not the reader’s fault. What we heard was part of St. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, different from the more familiar version in Matthew’s Gospel. For instance, and to my point, in Matthew, Jesus talks about “reward”: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:46). But here, in our Gospel today, Jesus talks about “credit.”
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you… If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you…If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?” (Lk. 6:32-34). “But love your enemies,” Jesus says, “do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Lk. 6:35).
Think about credit for a moment. If you have a credit card, “someone” “somewhere” is going to be carefully calculating your credit, as in “interest owed.” As a student, “extra credit” could put you over the top, but it’s something you will have to earn. Credit is a kind of reward, I suppose (connecting us to Matthew’s version of this teaching), but in our world, credit comes at a price. It’s a matter of calculation. We get the credit we earn, or the credit our “credit score” entitles us to.
In the sermon, Jesus is talking about credit in another mode. If we love or are good to those who love us or are good to us in return, or we give only to those from whom we expect to receive, then we are making credit a matter of careful calculation. But, as Jesus points out, none of this will be a credit to us, unless we also love our enemies and do good to them, lending and expecting nothing in return.
In the sermon, in the version we have in our Gospel today, “credit” turns out to be (perhaps surprisingly) the same word as “grace” or “favor.” It’s as if Jesus is casting his entire teaching, about our need to love our enemies, within the concept of grace, the unearned and undeserved margin that God extends to all of us, without exceptions. Grace is God’s power and presence in our lives, given to us as a free gift. We’ve all received it, as Jesus gives his life for us, raising us to new life. In other words, God is “crediting” us, right here and right now, and inviting us to “credit” others, as Jesus says, “expecting nothing in return” (Lk. 6:35).
One way of bringing this home to us is thinking in terms of communication. When we give “credence” to others, “credit” what they say, we believe what they tell us, even if we disagree. Credit is built on trust, across the board, and certainly comes into play as we listen and speak to each other across barriers. In communication, we extend a gracious margin to one other, taking the other’s word. Crediting what others tell us builds trust, becomes “credit” for us, even when we don’t come to a common mind as a result. It’s a basic form of love.
It may not seem very heroic, not much like what we think of when we think of loving our enemies, but it is. Counting others as credible across barriers is much closer to our daily lives, and maybe harder to practice as a result. It’s one thing to love others: another to listen and speak to them! But can we really love without communicating?
St. Paul says in Colossians: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Graceful communication with others is a form of love, distant from the patronizing toleration or passive aggression that sometimes masquerades as communication. There’s nothing graceful about these forms of communication, no credit extended at all.
But unless we want to be siloed off from each other completely, and cease communication (a real and present danger in our society), or weaponize our communication as straightforward aggression (also an option: think social media), there is no alternative to graceful communication, a credit we extend even to our enemies!
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you… If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you…If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?” (Lk. 6:32-34). “But love your enemies,” Jesus says, “do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Lk. 6:35). Graceful communication across barriers is just the most basic form of crediting others, and being credited in turn.
Those of you here for the celebration of confirmation today can see what a demanding way of life our confirmands have embarked on! The good news for us is that our lives are built upon credit, God’s gracious extension of margin to each of us. God loves us and credits us in Jesus Christ, and we extend credit to others, even our enemies. We’re not the source of grace, but God is, and he’s given us the pattern in Jesus Christ our Lord.