Love in Action
The “burning coals” in this passage are not a metaphor for revenge or pain. Rather, they signify the shame and remorse that individuals feel when, instead of giving them the retribution we think they deserve, we show them kindness and generosity. It is the effect caused when Christians treat those who have wronged them in a way that is entirely without malice or vengefulness, and is therefore foundationally supernatural. When that happens, John Calvin observes, the mind of the enemy may well be “torn in one of two ways. Either our enemy will be softened by kindness, or … he will be stung and tormented by the testimony of his conscience.”
These coals, therefore, are not to ultimately bring hurt but healing. Our generous actions are to encourage reconciliation, drawing the individual to us, not pushing them from us. It’s just like the mercy we received from God when we were still His enemies (Romans 2:4; 5:8).
If we are honest, though, those are not really the kind of coals we are looking for when we are wronged and hurt. Many of us would be quite happy to find out that coals actually would land on our enemies’ heads, burning and scarring them. After all, it’s nothing less than they deserve! But this reflects our fallenness and not our faith. This doesn’t look or sound like Jesus. That is what makes these verses so incredibly challenging.
Notice that God’s word calls us not merely not to react in vengefulness but to be proactive in blessing. When we manage not to retaliate, we have not yet fully obeyed. As disciples of Jesus, we’re not only to refrain from doing our enemies evil; we’re actually to do them good. It is easy to convince ourselves that ignoring our foes will take care of the problem or is the most we can realistically be expected to do; but here we discover that we’re actually supposed to show them hospitality! Our role is to respond to wrongdoing with a spirit of generosity, trusting that God will always judge justly and therefore we do not need to judge, and indeed must not do so (1 Peter 2:23).
Even as members of Christ’s body, many of us still seek to justify our disobedient, retributive actions or thoughts. Yet while our enemies’ minds may be able to cope with our arguments and their spirits will be strong enough to stand against our threats, love in action might bring them to repentance.
How does your heart need to be transformed or your actions affected by these verses? Do not duck the challenge of them. Part of growing in Christlikeness is to look for ways to do good to your enemies, acting out of the overflow of God’s radical kindness and generosity.
Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
47While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50And one of them struck the servant8 of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
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