“But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
On the night of his arrest, Peter took out a sword to fight for Jesus. In one swift move, he cut off the ear of one of those who had come to arrest Jesus. By all standards, these were the enemies of Jesus; enemies of God; enemies of salvation for Mankind. It so happened that it was the High Priest’s slave who received this blow. Peter was ready to strike the next.
When did Peter, the fisherman start going about with a sword by his side? Where did he receive training for physical combat? Was it not this same Peter that asked Jesus how often he would forgive his brother when wronged? (Matthew 18:21) Definitely, Jesus’ response: “as many as seventy times seven” did not register in his mind. Even when Jesus told Peter “Get behind me Satan” for trying to argue against the path of suffering and the cross, it just didn’t click.
On that night, Peter was shocked to the marrow when Jesus said: “Put your sword back, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus even went as far as picking up the ear and restoring it. I guess at that moment, it really registered on Peter’s mind that Jesus meant what He said in today’s Gospel passage. “I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). These men who arrested Jesus were not his friends, they would eventually beat Jesus black and blue, they would strip Him, make a mockery of Him, and rain insults on Him but Jesus practiced what He preached: He loved His enemies.
Right there on the cross, Jesus was able to summon the courage to say: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). In praying like this, Jesus really proved himself as the “Son of David” – a man who had the chance of killing his persecutor, Saul but refused. In praying for forgiveness for His enemies, Jesus gave us, His followers an example to follow. In words and deeds, Jesus, by His very life taught us to love our enemies.
For this reflection to bear fruits, please let’s do a small exercise before we continue. Take a pause and think of all those who have hurt you badly either recently or in the past. Think of those you can rightly call enemies; those you would readily cut off their ears if given the chance. Now, let us consider our lessons for today:
1. If You Cannot Love Your Enemies, you are Not Like Christ; that is to say, you are not a Christian
Jesus said: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For 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? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners.” (Luke 6:32-34). If I call myself a Christian, I must behave like Jesus Christ; I must not save my greetings only for those who love me, I must not be kind only to those who are good to me, I must help even those from whom I can gain nothing. St. Paul would say without love, our religiosity is useless; we are just “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Amongst all the religions of the world, only Christianity teaches us to love our enemies. Only Christianity teaches to turn the other cheek when we are slapped on the face. This is why Christianity is the greatest of all the world religions. Only Christianity holds the key to a redeemed humanity free from the many troubles and woes our world is facing today. If we all can just behave like Christ in terms of loving our enemies, our world would become heaven on earth. Unfortunately, many who identify as Christians fail woefully in this aspect of loving our enemies. We have gotten to the extent of using prayers as weapons for fighting our enemies both real and perceived.
When last did I do something good for my enemies? When last did I sincerely wish them well or pray that God would be merciful to them and overlook the wrongs they did to me? Let us take another pause. Let us use this moment to pray positive prayers for our enemies… …. …
2. The First Step to Loving Your Enemies is to See God in Them
One thing that kept David from striking Saul when he had the chance to do so was that David recognized that Saul was the “Lord’s Anointed.” This was an era where the law was: “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:24-25). It is quite touching that despite all the atrocities Saul committed, David was still able to recognize and respect God’s anointing in him. David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him; for who can put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Samuel 26:9).
Jesus said to us today: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37). By seeing Saul as God’s anointed, David was deliberately refusing to judge Saul by his past sins. We live in a world where a person is labelled by the nature of his or her crimes even when such is yet to be proven guilty. As such, one who rapes is called a rapist, one who kills is called a murderer, one who steals is called a thief, and so on. Even after serving a prison sentence for crimes committed, such a person is called by that name as if to say he or she can never rise above their sin. This is exactly what Jesus is speaking against. We must be able to see something good even in the most hardened of sinners.
Once again, picture those you consider to be your enemies. Try thinking of them in a different light; no longer by what they did to you but by something good that they are capable of doing. Remind yourself that the same God who made you made them and somehow you are one with them.
3. What Do We Gain By Loving Our Enemies?
There are indeed very many things to gain. One is the ripple effect of goodness. One kind act of love done to an enemy makes the whole world a better place. This is what Jesus explains in our Gospel passage as the “Golden Rule.” As you do good to someone, somehow, people will do good to you. Jesus told us: “Give, and it will be given to you; 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 6:38). This world is a small village. What goes around comes around.
Two, loving our enemies is that it attracts God’s blessing upon us. From David’s own mouth, we hear: “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness.” (1 Sam. 26:23) In fact, when we read that passage further, Saul himself was so moved by David’s act of kindness in sparing his life and he declared: “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” (1 Samuel 26:25).
Three, loving our enemies gives us a positive outlook on our own lives. Someone once said: “Thank God for your troublesome landlord, if not for him you would never have thought about buying a land to build your house.” Yes, the point is, whether we like it or not, our enemies are capable of bringing out the best in us. They tend to challenge us and make us did deeper into our potential. Beyond the tears they cause, our enemies basically help us to rise above our so-called limitations, laziness, and dependency on others. In fact, merely knowing that we have enemies ready to destroy us helps waken our spiritual lives and keep us alert.
As a little child, my worst enemies were my classroom teachers. I used to think they hated me when they would flog the hell out of me and yet they would spare those who committed worse crimes. Today, I cannot thank them enough. Once again let us ask ourselves: “It is possible that those I consider as my enemies today are God-sent?”
4. There is a Difference Between Loving our Enemies and Suicide
Let us go back to our first reading. Do you notice that upon getting close to Saul, David was careful enough not to wake Saul from his sleep? You see, David applied wisdom here. In as much as he did not kill Saul, he also did not put himself in harm’s way. After collecting Saul’s spear and his jar of water, David carefully tiptoed away without waking anyone in the entire army. It wasn’t until David had gone to the other side (maintaining a great space between them) that he stood on a mountain and called out to Saul.
What does this teach us? There is a big difference between loving our enemies and foolishly allowing them to have their way. We are told to love those who hate us but in loving them, we are to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). David would not kill Saul but would not let Saul kill him either. In truth, an act of kindness shown to an enemy is more effective than a fight. In Proverbs 25:21-22, we read: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for (by so doing), you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
Having come to the end of this homily, there is one last question that we must consider: If in the course of this week or sometime in the future, God gives you an opportunity to revenge on what your enemy did (or is still doing) to you, what would you do? Crush them with delight or show to them the kindness that they refused to show to you when they had the chance? Whatever you do would tell if you are like Christ or just a mere church-goer!
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to love my enemies as you love me. Amen.
Bible Study: 1 Sam. 26:2,7-9,11-13,22-23, Ps. 103:1-4,8,10,12-13, 1 Cor. 15:45-49, Luke 6:27-38).