Love Your Enemies

In teaching my nephew the concept of sharing, we used a classic device.

When children are called upon to share something, have one divide it and the other choose which half is hers/his. This can happen with a cookie, pizza or other items as well.

Rarely does one child say to the other, “You can have it all.” The purpose of the exercise is to share something in an equitable manner. Not only can this teach children a lesson, it can work for adults, too!

The advice Jesus gives in the Love Your Enemies story, found in Luke’s Gospel, couldn’t be more different. He’s calling us to a higher standard. It’s as though we’re asked to divvy up the treat and instead we say, “You can have it all.”

Even more, the sharing of a cookie between children might show they’re friendly. But Jesus speaks here of “enemies ” This is an entirely different category. Jesus assumes his ancient listeners have enemies, and that is something that transcends culture and time. Enemies are not limited to the ancient world!

Christians are to love their enemies, blessing them and praying for them. The Christian standard is one higher than what we could expect from the world with its transactional view of relationships. As Jesus himself notes, it’s fairly easy to love those who love us, and to do good to those who do good to us. But it’s another thing entirely to love those who are our enemies, to pray for them and to bless them. [Living Liturgy 2019]

We’re called to be this way because God is this way. God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Should we be any different? We’re to be merciful as the Father is merciful. And here we see in our own time the example of mercy given to us by Pope Francis. It’s said that the word “mercy” is the hermeneutical key to his papacy. It is the way to understand and make sense of his actions. Pope Francis chose mercy because mercy is of God, and adopting mercy demonstrates we’re followers of his son, Jesus.

When faced with the extraordinary demands of the gospel outlined in this reading, one person said, “How can I do that? I’d end up with nothing?” Then we look to the example of Jesus who enfleshed the words he preached. Jesus himself loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him.

In the Gospel of Luke we will hear Jesus from the cross pray for their forgiveness. What did he end up with? Nothing: he died on a cross. But of course we know the rest of the story. God raised him from the dead. Only by Jesus giving himself completely and without reservation to the point of death is he ultimately raised up to glory with the Father.

The words that form the conclusion of this gospel are especially apropos. “Forgive and you will be forgiven. . .For the measure with which you measure / will in return be measured out to you.”

We forgive others not so much for their sake but for our own.

Adapted from Renew International