Love Your Enemies: Epiphany 7

Love Your Enemies: Epiphany 7

Year C, Epiphany 7: February 20, 2022
The Seventh Sunday After Epiphany

Year C: Genesis 43:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38

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Jesus commands us to love, to will the good of another, even if it may be to our immediate disadvantage. What sense is there in that? To will our love, even to those who are unworthy of it?

On the face of it, this is an outlandish thing to say. Enemies are, practically by definition, people you can’t love. I don’t know about you, but I am more likely to act out of my physical being than my spiritual being because my physical needs are more present to me. Material and financial requirements for survival and status often come first. Jesus’s injunction to servanthood, to love those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us, seems last on the list, if not ludicrous. It requires willpower to reverse our priorities.

I am pretty confident that even when Jesus spoke these words two thousand years ago that this was a difficult, if not impossible, command.

Most of us probably think that what Jesus says in today’s Gospel is unrealistic or even a bit soft-headed. Turning the other cheek is usually a way to get the other side of you smacked.

But think of Christ’s love for us, for those referred to as the “beloved community.” The whole of Christ’s mission, God’s manifestation among us, was to reveal who God is and what the beloved community can become. As followers of Christ, are we not to believe that God can and does transform us, can and does give us the power to love others as we want to be loved, can and does give us the strength to love our enemies?

For that reason, I believe we cannot dismiss this command as hyperbole; we cannot say that Jesus was merely exaggerating to make a point. Though I am often wont to say that we must not take Scripture literally, I believe that Jesus meant these words quite literally. He meant what he said.

These words of Jesus unsettle us. Indeed, they have troubled many Christians, including preachers as esteemed as Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Yet, in one of his earliest public sermons more than sixty years ago, Dr. King said that “love is key to the solution of the problems which we confront in the world today – love, even for enemies.”[1]

It’s a lovely prescription that Jesus has given us, and Martin Luther King confirmed, but exactly why should we love our enemies?

Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” He does not say, do everything they want, or pander to their cruel whims. Instead, we should look for their ultimate good, for their healing and health. If you are caring for a cranky and spoiled child, it is not loving to allow them to run into a busy street or hurt their little sister or brother. Pray for your enemies, for their well-being, for them to be guided to just actions—despite what you know are their many shortcomings.

Loving your enemies also means that you have to stand up to a person who is destroying their life or the lives of others.

Let’s also think beyond the kind of love that Jesus is talking about to what happens when we hate – think about the cycle of self-destruction and hate. Hate does nothing but intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the world. If I hit you, and you hit back, and I hit you back, and you hit me back, the process goes on ad-infinitum. Both of us are defeated through mutual destruction.

Somewhere along the way, somebody must be strong enough to stand up and refuse to hit back because the more we hate, the more we strengthen the existence of hate – in our country, in the world around us.

Here is the dilemma. Thousands of years of human history show us that the command Jesus has given in today’s Gospel is radical and counterintuitive. So how do we move from our natural instinct to match blow for blow and word for word?

In other words, how do we live our lives responding with grace and kindness instead of reacting with words or actions that seek to answer hurt with more hurt?

Ultimately, we are who we are because God is love.

But love isn’t always easy, and we’ll never love perfectly because we’re not God.  

Sometimes love—true love, not just sentimental love—can be challenging, as we heard in today’s Gospel, where Jesus talks not about loving your friends or your family but about loving your enemies.  

We’ll never love perfectly, but even so, we keep trying. We rise to the challenge of making our circle of love bigger and bigger, big enough to include even those we don’t want to love. 

And I think that’s one of the most important things those of us living this good life together have to give the world as we find it today. 

The voice of Jesus in today’s Gospel is clear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate. Be merciful as God is merciful—for what you give to the world in love is what you will receive back.

But this kind of love that Jesus lived and taught is in short supply today. We live in a world where love is often regarded as something to be shared with people like yourself, those who love you, and withheld from others who need it the most, judged undeserving. 

We live in a world that’s forgetting how to love, in other words. A world that so desperately needs our example.  

The world needs us to show everyone how to live this life Jesus gave us. 

Well, where are we to find examples of that kind of forgiveness?

Are there examples in your own life where that forgiveness is found? In the life of another?

How do we forgive another, love another, when it is the last thing we want to do in the world?

The way to will it may well not be through will power – but through prayer. How else could we be willing to give up what we think we have control over?

I suggest the way to find the will to love, even when we may not want to, is in prayer. So I offer a prayer attributed to St. Francis:

“Lord make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is discord, union;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Jesus doesn’t say that life in the real world is easy. He doesn’t pity us; instead, he loves us and looks out for our good.

We are blessed and healed by Jesus’ love for us and the courage of his honesty. We are called to be Christians in this world, in this country, in this community, at this time, and always.

And if we have one last message to leave, there’s not a much better message than the one that Jesus gave us as offered

[1] “Loving Your Enemies”, Sermon delivered at the Detroit Council of Chuches’ Noon Lenten Services, King, Martin Luther, Jr., March 7, 1961.

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