Sunday, February 20, 2022
The Challenge of Loving our Enemies
The Rev. Mark D Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
As we approach the end of Epiphany and head towards Lent, I am always glad to see this reading on those years where Lent begins in March. Most of the time we get these readings in late May or June in the season after Pentecost. The last few sets lectionary of readings at the end of Epiphany are duplicated in the early part of the season after Pentecost. So, they are moved around depending on when Lent begins. I have always thought that the idea of how we deal with those who we dislike, hold a grudge against or fall into the category of enemies is something that is best dealt with before or maybe during Lent which is a season of repentance and penitence.
Today’s gospel follows Luke’s version of the Beatitudes and is one of the most challenging of our gospels because it flies in the face of how we think we naturally want to act and behave. This passage also is just the opposite of how Jesus’ world functioned and our world functions today. For many this seems foolish at best and very unwise at worst. Love my enemies, come on Jesus give me a break. Yet there have been people who have been able to follow this example.
This morning as I was eating breakfast, I was listening to Christa Tippet’s program With Good Reason and the topic was Loving your enemies. She had a Buddhist on, and he made the comment that even Buddha. One comment was that Buddhism teaches that we must first learn not to hate our enemies before we can love them. I found that a helpful little bit of insight, so I toss that in at the start. However, the command ultimately is love our enemies and that is still challenging.
I was watching the memorial service for Desmond Tutu at St. John the Divine in New York that was on YouTube last Sunday. Presiding Bishop Curry preached. He spoke about how Tutu stood up against apartheid but in a loving a peaceful way. Bishop Tutu helped establish and worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A group that sought to bring the country together once Apartheid was repealed. I believe you can see today’s passage in how this group helped heal his country. He did not return violence with violence for we all know that this rarely results in a peaceful settlement. However, it is not what our instinct tells us to do. It is a different and challenging path, the path of non-violence and love
Jesus’ message today is counter-cultural, turn the world upside down or turn it around to an entirely different way of functioning. In part though this call to a different way of functioning in the world is not entirely to the benefit of the other person but is for our benefit as well. Earlier this week I was at my gym and one of the cable news networks was on one of the TVs. Now I had my ear buds in and was listening to something entirely different. Yet without hearing the sound I was watching the faces of the four people sitting around the desk on the set. It was quite apparent that they were all upset about something. I watched their faces and wondered about their blood pressure. Then I found myself wondering what good was this anger doing for them and for their viewers? What channel this was doesn’t matter for I have seen this on several of the major cable news channels. Now in this case it isn’t about news, but about ratings and money. They get their viewers all wound up and their ratings go up. Does it do the viewers any good? I’m not so sure it does, and it certainly doesn’t help the civility of discourse in our world today.
Now that brings us around to a piece of the passage that is challenging but completely within our ability to do. After Jesus talks about 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? He adds, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”
I think it is important to know that the Greek in here is one of those trickly translation issues. The Greek implies that love is an attitude, a way of looking at another person one that respects them as a human being even if you disagree with them.
We have a perfect example of loving your enemies in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures. Now stop and think about this. If your brothers had thrown you into a pit and then sold you off as a slave, wouldn’t you have been really angry with them. However, Joseph after going through several trials realizes that in all of those challenges is the opportunity to react in a totally different way. To love his brothers even though he had every right to be angry. He realized that here was the opportunity to save his entire tribe, not just his family. Joseph acts out of love. In fact, he sees God’s hand in his being in Egypt. He sees that God took the terrible thing his brothers did and turned it into a blessing.
Jesus is calling us to act out of love. Love, true love is never transactional. True love does not do mental calculations of what will I get out of this. Now by transactional I mean a quid pro quo economy. If I do x for you then I expect you to do y for me. Love does not work that way because love is in an I thou relationship rather than an I it, object subject relationship. That is how God’s love works, that is how Jesus’ love worked while on earth. It is the essence of the relationship of love that defines the Trinity.
The gospel passage goes on, do not judge lest you be judged etc. The Message versions says: ““Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.” These are all examples of treating others the way you want to be treated. I might also add to this jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst of another person seems to be epidemic today. We have certainly seen the consequences of that type of way of being over the past months. A great deal of the pain in today’s world is centered right around this issue. There seems to be this rush to judgment, a joy in tearing another person down. This destroying of each other is certainly one of the real tragedies of our social media world. In part because it depersonalizes it, yet the pain it causes is just as real. This is what makes online bullying so destructive.
Then we come to what may be the most important of this teaching. Forgive and you will be forgiven. This may also be one of the most difficult. Holding a grudge though really does not hurt the person you are angry at, the only person a grudge hurts is you. There is a well-known phrase “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” This is part of the healing process in any 12-step program, asking for forgiveness and also being willing to forgive. No real healing starts until this process moves forward.
Finally, we see the instruction to give, and it will be given to you.
All of this brings to mind the famous prayer of St. Francis. I think this gospel passage is best viewed through the lens of this prayer.
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.
to be loved as to love.
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. Amen.
This prayer brings to life what Jesus is teaching in this section of the Sermon on the Plane. This prayer is how we each can live out this important teaching on how to live a life as peacemakers.