June 17, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
What are the verbs that describe what most people would like to do to their enemies? Curse, crush, fight, wish ill, put down, hurt, hate, kill. But love? Many would consider “love the enemy” an oxymoron.
But this is what Jesus teaches. “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28). Wow! Jesus not only tells us not to hate our enemies but to love them. We are not only to prudently avoid those who hate us but to do good to them. We are not only to not engage in a word war with those who curse us, but to say a blessing for them. We are not only to patiently overlook mistreatment from the hands of others, but we are to actively hold them in our heart in prayer.
Where is this coming from? It stems from the very love of God for us. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8). Our sins sent Jesus to the cross, but he went willingly, winning for us our salvation in the process. The love of Jesus is unilateral, unconditional and self-sacrificial. We were his enemies, but still he loved us and gave his very life for us.
We are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We are called to become like him. As God is love, and the fundamental virtue of a Christian is love, then we too need to love as God loves. And nowhere is that love tested than when it is bestowed on enemies.
Indeed that is where the test really is. “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” (Lk 6:32-33). Now that is quite challenging. Is our Christianity an easy Christianity, only responding positively to the warmth and love of others? Then we are no better off than sinners. Rather, Jesus coaxes us to rise to heights of righteousness, to truly reflect who we truly are or ought to be. Thus, Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and do good to them” (Lk 6:35a), “that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:45a). Why? Our Father “himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6:35d), “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Mt 5:45b). Thus it comes down to this: “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6:36).
Now a big stumbling block to accepting love for enemies is the mistaken notion that love is about emotions, about feelings. Am I to feel good about my enemy? Am I to have positive emotions with regard to my enemy? Am I to just ignore or gloss over the bad that he does? No. That would be unrealistic. Rather, love is a positive disposition of the will. It is knowing and deciding that our enemy is still a child of God, who has some good in him, whom Jesus also wants to save, who has the potential for holiness.
Love is a commitment. It recognizes that God might want to use me to cause a positive change in the other person. It is a realization that indeed I am still my brother’s keeper. It is rejoicing in the opportunity to be a channel of God’s grace and mercy. Indeed, Jesus tells us, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:13).
Such love is unilateral. Being merciful works for us. But how about our enemies, who probably would continue with their bad ways because we just accept their actions meekly and even love them?
Well, we should want them to change, and we should speak about this when given the opportunity, but it is up to God to change them. In this we also have a part to play. God is a God of blessing and not condemnation. Thus, “bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.” (Rom 12:14). We pray for them and ask for God’s blessing upon them, so that they might be enlightened and transformed.
But here is something interesting. If we truly wanted to help change them, it is not by assaulting them with harsh words but rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” (Rom 12:20). What divine wisdom! Conquer hate with love. “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Rom 12:21).
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For reflection and/or discussion: Do you have an enemy or someone you greatly dislike?
For prayer and action: Pray for the grace not only to forgive but even to love your enemy.
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Notice: The above is taken from my forthcoming new book, “Forty Days of Challenge in the Christian Life.” The book will tackle 40 difficult teachings in the Bible and explain what these mean.
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God bless you.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
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