Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Love Your Enemies” (Luke 6:27-31 and 35-38)
February 24, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is a three-word command Jesus repeats in today’s gospel lesson from the sixth chapter of Luke—a three-word command that cuts against the grain of human nature, a three-word command that sounds foolish, a three-word command that if obeyed would make you vulnerable to being really hurt—did you catch it? “Love your enemies,” Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies”:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:27-31).
A little later Jesus again commands, “Love your enemies”:
Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:35-38).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “enemy” as “A person who is actively opposed to someone.” So with that in mind, who are your enemies? Who is actively opposed to you? Who comes to mind at this very moment? It may be a neighbor, or a coworker, or a fellow student, or a teammate, or a boss. Or it may be worse than that, it may be someone in your family, as the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, “your enemies are members of your own household” (Micah 7:6).
As you may remember, in the first family described in the Bible there was what you could call significant sibling rivalry between the brothers Cain and Abel. Cain envied his brother Abel and became angry with him, and so as scripture tells us:
Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10).
In his poignant novel East of Eden, which is based on the story of Cain and Abel, Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck put it this way:
This is best known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul…The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind (Penguin Classics edition, 270).
Lest you think this is not relevant today, in a 2006 article from The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law entitled “Fratricide: A Forensic Psychiatric Perspective” researchers analyzed “4,668 cases of fratricide in the United States between 1976 and 1994 and found that 73 percent of cases involved brothers”—brothers are much more likely to commit fratricide than sisters.
And yes, instances of enemies being “members of your own household” even occurs in families in the church, as Paul Zahl shares in his book Grace in Practice:
The relation between siblings can be very touchy. The incident that most opened my eyes to this took place in connection with a parent’s last illness and funeral. The father was sick for a long time and was cared for very well by his son and daughter-in-law, with whom he had been living. The other brother was far away, living out a hippie phase in the Southwest. He failed to come home during the illness of his dad. When the man died, that son not only failed to come home, but he would not come home. He did not attend the funeral and was harsh to his dutiful brother over the phone.
Paul Zahl continues:
Things got worse. When their mother died about a year later, the brother in Arizona again would not come to the funeral. Later, I spoke to the brother who had buried both of his parents alone. He told me he never wanted to see his brother again, and that if he ever did see his brother again, he would not be responsible for what he did. This is an extreme case, but not so unusual (179).
Maybe overall in your life you get along fine with your family. Maybe you have a hard time identifying any “enemies” in your life, people who are “actively opposed” to you. But if that’s the case you may have “frenemies” instead, which is also very common. The word “frenemy” is a rather new word, an oxymoron that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.” In other words, just like it sounds, a frenemy is someone who is simultaneously your friend and enemy. A frenemy is someone who is pleasant to you in person, but speaks badly about you behind your back—someone who is on your side when it is convenient or beneficial for them, but will turn against you in a heartbeat if doing so is more convenient or beneficial.
Frenemies abound in school and at the workplace, and yes, occasionally sometimes even at church—as the psalmist wrote, “Even my best friend, whom I trusted, who broke bread with me, has lifted up his heal and turned against me” (Psalm 41:9, BCP 642). Every single one of you can identify at least one frenemy in your life.
Or, to get even more uncomfortable, as the saying goes, some people are “their own worst enemy”—constantly sabotaging their own lives—as in Bruce Springsteen’s song “Your Own Worst Enemy” on his 2007 album Magic:
There’s a face you know
Staring back from the shop window
The condition you’re in
Now you just can’t get out of this skin
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Your own worst enemy has come
Everything is falling down
Your own worst enemy has come to town
Some people are their own worst enemy in the sense that they are relentlessly hard on themselves, relentless self-critical. The late comedian and Saturday Night Live legend Chris Farley graphically demonstrated this when he used to punch himself in the forehead and repeat, “I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid.” It was hilarious with Chris Farley in a Saturday Night Live sketch, but in our own lives, not so much.
Recently the Christian singer Lauren Daigle won a Grammy for her beautiful song entitled “You Say,” a prayer of hope for the moments when you are your own worst enemy. See if this resonates with you at all:
I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, You say I am Yours
And I believe, I believe what you say of me
(From her 2018 album Look Up Child)
Here is the gospel…God loves his enemies. God loves you when you are actively opposed to him. God loves you when you have been wounded by enemies—even enemies from your own household—and God loves you when you have been an enemy to others. God loves you when you have been wounded by frenemies and God loves you when you have been the frenemy who has wounded others. And God loves you when you have been your own worst enemy—God says you are loved when you can’t feel a thing, God says you are strong when you think you are weak, God says you are held when you are falling short, and when you don’t belong, God says to you, “I am Yours.”
Jesus was treated like an enemy. He experienced what it was like to have his own disciples, members of his own household so to speak, those whom he trusted, those who broke bread with him, even at the Last Supper—turn against him and betray him—as Judas betrayed him with a kiss as scripture ominously says, “All of them deserted him and fled” (Mark 13:33). And yet, even then, Jesus loved his enemies.
The One who commanded, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” did just that on Good Friday as he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The One who commanded, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” did just that on Good Friday as the Roman soldiers struck his sacred head again and again. The One who commanded, “From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt” was silent as the soldiers took away his coat and cast lots to see who would get it.
The One who commanded, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” gave everything he had on the cross, even his life, down to his very last breath. The One who commanded, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” had mercy on his enemies on Good Friday, and rather than judge his enemies, took that judgment upon himself, and rather than condemn his enemies, took that condemnation upon himself—all in order to save his enemies.
The One who commanded, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” forgave his enemies and gave them “a good measure” of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness “pressed down, shaken together, running over”—and under the cross, the blood of Jesus continued to cry out from the ground, “Father, forgive them; Father, forgive them; Father, forgive them.”
And God has done just that. God has forgiven his enemies, including you.
Scripture assures us, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:6-10).
“Love your enemies”…Jesus commanded it, and Jesus did it…and Jesus still does.
And in response, perhaps today God is calling you to follow his example: to love your enemies—even in your own household, to love your frenemies, and yes, even to love yourself.