“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
— Matthew 5:43-48
As I have mentioned earlier, one of the things that bothers me most about this strange time in which we are existing, is the rancor, not only in politics, but in society as a whole. I am not naïve enough to say that bitter, hate-filled disagreements haven’t gone on before, (In my own lifetime I remember the damaging vitriol of racism/civil rights struggles and that of the Vietnam war. Each generation can point to its own tragic conflicts.) but the continual exposure to these current social and political enemies continually drains my spirit, as I know it does yours. You’re familiar with the drill… One side says “stop,” the other says “go,”; one says “black,” the other says “white,”; one says “We’re making things better.”, the other says “You’re making things worse!” . . . on and on it goes, ad nauseam. So, what are we to do?
I suppose that is why Jesus, with his innate understanding of human nature, spent so much time on this subject in this, his most well-known sermon. Consider today’s text. Just as we were getting over yesterday’s antiseptic command about refraining from retaliation, this next admonition kicks it up a notch by saying, “love your enemies.” How hard is that! The call is once again of perspective, and I think the key to today’s exhortation is found in the last line, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What Jesus so desires is that we consider all of our relationships in light of our relationship with God. We are to love our enemies, because God loves our enemies. That in itself is startling, when you think about it. We are to love consistently, even our enemies, because God’s love is the very purpose of creation.
Martin Luther King, Jr., could preach about that better than almost anyone. In one of his sermons he says:
I think 1 mentioned before that some time ago my brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didn’t dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: “I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.” And I looked at him right quick and said: “Oh no, don’t do that. Be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody’s got to have some sense on this highway.”
Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble, isn’t it? And as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, decided to refuse to dim theirs. And Toynbee tells that out of the twenty-two civilizations that have risen up, all but about seven have found themselves in the junkheap of destruction. It is because civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the lights. And if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any sense on the highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.
One of my favorite books, John Feinstein’s The Civil War, is about the Army-Navy football game. It is an amazing story about life at the military institutions, and particularly the way the two schools prepare for their annual game, which, by the way, dates back to 1879. While each school plays a difficult schedule, their season’s success is based on this one game. From the beginning of spring training, practices end with, “Beat Army,” or “Beat Navy.” Spectators at the game see an intensity like none other, emotions that run high, players giving their all. But when the game ends, after the teams have shaken hands, all the players move to the end of the field where the losing team’s fans are seated – either the Brigade of the Navy Midshipmen or the Army Corps of Cadets – where they stand together, with hands over their hearts, as the band plays either “Blue and Gold” or “Alma Mater.” Then both teams walk to the other end of the field and repeat the process for the winner. Feinstein says that the first game-ending he saw gave him chills, because it was the time when troops were already stationed in the Persian Gulf preparing for what would be known as Desert Storm. Feinstein recognized in that instance that a greater allegiance was honored by all present.
Jesus calls us to love our enemies because God does. Enough said . . .
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, once said, “I have no doubt that we are here for a purpose. I have no doubt that the purpose is not only to bring God closer to his creations, but to bring his creations closer to each other.”
- Who would you consider to be your enemy? Why would you say that? Take time to ask God to illumine your heart and mind so that you might be able to see differently.
- Who considers you to be an enemy? What can you do to change that?
A Guide for Prayer: A Prayer by Ted Loder
O God of children and clowns,
as well as martyrs and bishops,
somehow you always seem to tumble
a jester or two of light
through the cracks of my proud defense
into the shadows of my sober piety.
Grant me, now, an enchantment of heart
that, for a moment,
the calliope of your kingdom
may entice my spirit,
out of my sulky self-preoccupations
into a childlike delight
in the sounds and silences
that hum of grace;
so I may learn again
that life is never quite as serious as I suppose,
yet more precious than I dare take for granted,
even for a moment;
that I may be released
into the possibilities of the immediate,
smudge souled as I am,
to join the parade of undamned fools
who see the ridiculous in the sublime,
the sublime in the ridiculous;
and so dare to take pratfalls for love,
walk tightropes for justice,
tame lions for peace,
and rejoice to travel light,
knowing there is little I have or need
except my brothers and sisters to love,
you to trust,
and your stars to follow home.