A sermon with the Anglican congregation of Christ Church, Cataraqui, Kingston, Ontario on February 19. 1995
by Robert Brow
A Christian disciple is someone who is enrolled to learn with Jesus the Messiah. And one of the lessons Jesus wants to teach us is the difficult skill of learning to love enemies. At first sight this seems an impossible, paradoxical way to live one’s life.
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27). We all have enemies. In some cases it may be a war between nations, or a civil war within a country. But from their earliest days children experience enemies on the playground in school. In any place of work there are enemies who want to squeeze us out, take our job, make fools of us. Even in a church congregation we can sense that some people would prefer us not to be around. We may have friends who turn against us. Hatred in a family is particularly upsetting. Even after years of happy married life a partner can suddenly become our enemy.
How can we possibly love those who want to harm us? Jesus is not suggesting that we let them walk over us. We have a right to appeal for justice. And if we are denied justice in a human court, we can appeal to God who can intervene sometimes very fiercely on our behalf. There are many such appeals to God for vindication in the Psalms (Psalm 7:6; 17:1-2; 35:24). And speaking of a widow who was denied justice, Jesus said "Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?" (Luke 18:7).
Jesus’ teaching is based on the fact that God loves everyone, even his enemies. He wants his children to be "kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." And Jesus explained "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36). But how can we attain this kind of unconditional love?
"Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (6:28) The first step is to pray for our enemies. Even as we protect ourselves and others from their attack we bless those who want to destroy us. . "God you love these people, and understand what is causing their hatred, lay your hand of blessing upon them." As soon as we begin to do that the situation has changed. Often we will be totally unable to ask God to bless those who have treated us so abominably. So we turn to the Holy Spirit, and say "I can’t love this person, and I certainly don’t want to ask God to bless him. But you can put the love of God into my heart, and give me a prayer of blessing."
"If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt (6:29). Slapping someone with the back of one’s hand across the cheek is not intended to kill. But in the Middle East it was a terrible insult. But insults do not harm us. With the love of God in our heart, we can turn the other cheek. This could be a literal "You are welcome to slap me across the other cheek." But more likely it is a metaphor for "I accept your insult, and if you want to say more to insult me, I will still love you." A similar approach can be taken with an enemy soldier who has grabbed our overcoat, or forced us to carry his pack for one mile and we offer to go an extra mile (Matthew 5:40).
"Give to everyone who begs from you, and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again" (6:30). Jesus is not suggesting we give a gun to a maniac who asks for it. We don’t give a bottle of whisky to someone who wants another drink for the road. Nor do we give to the beggars who clamor most loudly for our attention. But we do give something. With a beggar at least we can look and smile. We might find a way to give something that really meets the need. Nor does Jesus expect us to forget a debt from a business that has the money and refuses to pay. But ruthlessly pursuing others who cannot afford to repay a loan is not part of Jesus’ kind of loving. "Love your enemies, do good,, and lend, expecting nothing in return" (6:35). And the reason is that God gives and gives to us day after day, and he never asks us for repayment.
"Do to others as you would have them do to you" (6:31). Many quarrels and wars between nations and individuals would be avoided if one or the other side began asking "What would I need and long for in his or her shoes?" If we can see the problem from the enemy’s point of view a hasty war will be prevented. We might even see a way to solve the problem in a creative loving way. This is the method used by all the best negotiators in labor disputes.
Jesus’s prescription for learning to love enemies is indeed paradoxical. But once we have grasped it, and tried it, the world suddenly begins to feel like a less dangerous place. So let’s try that now in a word of prayer as I ask you to picture the person who is your very worst enemy. It could be in your family, your place of work, in the current situation in Canada, or elsewhere in the world.
Prayer Lord, as I hear the good news of the Gospel today, I realize that Jesus’s way is indeed the right way. But there is so much hatred in my heart. I can’t imagine loving my enemy. And I certainly don’t want to turn the other cheek. Holy Spirit, I ask for insight to put myself into that enemy’s shoes. And please give me a prayer of blessing instead of cursing.