“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from "Loving Your Enemies")” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gospel Text: (MT 5:38-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
“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,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Today I want to look a bit closer at the notion of loving our enemies. Too often in popular and social media I see people saying terrible things in regards to men and women they deem evil. Occasionally Facebook is riddled with sayings like “he deserves to suffer and die,” in regards to people like Osama Bin Laden, Sadam Hussein, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Boston Bomber), and other people who have committed horrible atrocities. While it would be un-Christian of me to claim that these people should not be punished in some way for their actions, these comments make me ask these questions:
“When did these people cease to be humans deserving of mercy? If they don’t deserve mercy, how can I believe that I do?”
How do we decide what acts are too horrendous for mercy? As Christians, we shouldn’t. Too often we become victims of popular culture that wants revenge. We want to claim that God’s mercy is limited and some sins are beyond forgiveness and must be punished to the extreme. But we as Christians know better than that. We know God’s mercy is limitless in our own lives as well as others. The Psalm today reminds us of that when it says, “He pardons all your iniquities (all of them, not just some), heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.” (Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8+10, 12-13)
In our own lives there may be people who have personally wronged us so atrociously that we simply cannot show mercy to them. They have become our enemies in this life and are beyond our forgiveness. But Moses says to us, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart,” and Jesus says to us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” As Christians, this is arguably one of Christ’s most difficult teachings.
But we must remember that mercy does not come from us, but rather through us. Some persecution is beyond our power to forgive, but not for Christ. We are called today, by the words of Christ, to let his mercy flow through us.
Allow him to transform us from the inside out, so that we may be able to love our enemies and that we may be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.