Love your enemies? In this day and age? Jesus can’t be serious! Especially when we see those infamous television images of the jetliners barreling into the Twin Towers for the thousandth time, or when we see the occasional social media post of Islamic extremists beheading a captive, or when we watch distraught families weeping at the graveside of their son or daughter killed by terrorists. It is hard to find anything resembling love in our hearts for such barbarians who would do such brutal things.
But then we open our Bibles and are brusquely confronted by the words of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…” (St. Matthew 5:43-44). The truth is that we would rather have permission to bomb them back to the Stone Age, nuke them until they glow as some say, but not this. Love your enemies? Does Jesus understand what it is like to live in the real world?
What could Jesus possibly have meant? Not romantic love, of course, but what sort of love? How far should we take this extreme benevolence? Does this mean that we are to condone evil? Are there specific enemies that Jesus has in mind? Is it even possible to do what Jesus is asking of us?
Corrie Ten Boom survived the Holocaust, but her family did not. They were Dutch Christians caught by the Nazis for hiding Jews in their home. She watched the horrors of the genocide from Auschwitz and barely survived.
Following the war, she became famous for her book, “The Hiding Place,” which shared the story of her family. The popularity of the book gave her the opportunity to share her faith with thousands of people on speaking tours.
One such evening, after she had spoken about the forgiveness of Christ, a man approached her whom she recognized as one of the guards from Auschwitz. She immediately felt all of the horror, pain, and hatred from those years of persecution.
He told her that he had listened to her talk, and informed her that he had been a guard at the death camp. She told him that she recognized him. Crying, he asked if he might receive the forgiveness of Christ of which she had spoken. She thought to herself that she could not, would not, but she remembered the command of Christ to love your enemy and to forgive seventy times seven the person who has wronged you.
She prayed that Jesus might give her the strength to forgive the man, and as she prayed, she felt a sensation begin in her heart and flow through her hand as it touched his. Then she heard herself saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.”
The man collapsed to her feet and wept a prayer of thanks. She later discovered that he had become a minister of the gospel, and that many people had come to Christ through his ministry.
In a sermon written in a Georgia jail and preached just after the public transit dispute in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about loving your enemies:
“Of course this is not practical; life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog…My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way…This is the only way to create the beloved community.”
I am not suggesting that Jesus’ admonition to love one’s enemies is easy. It is not. But I do think we should look more deeply at what Jesus is calling us to do. To that end, this coming Sunday I will share my third message in our current sermon series. I certainly expect to see you in worship as we consider this portion of his historic mountaintop message. Bring a friend!