Love Your Enemies...Why?
by Joshua Wong
“A man is born gentle and weak; at his death he is hard and stiff. All things, including the grass and trees, are soft and pliable in life; dry and brittle in death. Stiffness is thus a companion of death; flexibility a companion of life. An army that cannot yield will be defeated. A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind. The hard and stiff will be broken; the soft and supple will prevail.”
— Lao Tzu, a 6th Century Chinese philosopher
Let us pray-
Dear Jesus, you ask us sometimes to do the impossible. But we realize that it’s for our own good. We realize we can not do it alone. May we with your help live a life transformed by your love. Amen.
It’s a privilege to be back with you again.
Today I’ll be sharing from the gospel of Luke chapter 6:27-38 that was just read.
Before I begin, I just want to say that this is one of the hardest lessons in the Bible. Forgiving our enemy is personal and painful, and I in no way mean to offer simple answers nor disrespect any pain you may be experiencing. May God speak to us personally and at our proper time.
Jesus is asking us to love our enemies, do good to those that hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us. Do not judge, and to forgive.
Jesus are you kidding? It’s 2019. Look at all the injustice in the world.
There are plenty of reasons not to love, forgive and judge.
It’s clear, WE are right and THEY are wrong.
But following Jesus sometimes seems illogical and unrealistic.
Verse 31, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus, Really?
Here’s a little background on this passage. During the writing of Luke, the Christian community was vulnerable. It was written to followers who were often victims of hate and blame because they were the minorities. They followed the teachings of someone who was radical and went against the grain. The Romans and Jews didn’t like them because their allegiance was not to Caesar but to Jesus. It was common for Christians to be killed for their faith.
Today we still have vulnerable people in our society. Young African American men are seen as suspicious and guilty. Women don’t feel safe walking alone. New immigrants are powerless maneuvering the system. The homeless live under cold rainy freeway underpasses. Gay and transgender people fear that they will be a victim of the next hate crime.
Still today Jesus is asking us to love our enemies. Forgive others, and not judge. Really Jesus?
So Jesus, teach us what is your definition of Love?
In verse 29, Jesus goes on with the story of turning the other cheek and letting people take your coat. Unfortunately, verse 29 has been used by some people to condone abuse. But it’s quite the opposite.
Back then, there were 2 types of “bullies”. One was the master of a servant and the other was a Roman soldier.
The story of the cheek slapping illustrates that there was a proper way for a master to discipline his servant. The master would slap the servant with the underside of his hand across his right cheek. When Jesus says, offer the other as well, it would make it impossible for the master to slap him correctly; this was a sign of dishonor to the master. Then the public will see that it was a sign of protest against being mistreated.
Similarly, if a soldier was to take another person’s coat it was an act of extortion. To give your shirt as well meant giving your undergarment and it would leave you naked. What it really exposes is the unjust act of having your coat taken in the first place.
Both of these examples were intended to teach the early Christians how to respond to injustice with non-violence.
So, Jesus is really teaching us about a healthier kind of love, not an abusive love, not an unjust love. And definitely, not to become a “doormat” for abuse.
The word love used here is from the Greek word Agape, which is “the highest form of Christian love”. Not to be confused with the other Greek words “Philia”, which means brotherly love, or “Storge”, which means familial love, or “Eros”, which is romantic love.
Agape love is not a romantic love, nor does it mean liking someone or even friendship. Agape love, or Christian love, means loving with your whole heart, unconditionally, not expecting anything in return, and loving with a desire for the other person’s well being.
So, our goal of loving are enemy is not for our enemies to become our friends, nor wanting our relationships to be “back to normal”. But our goal is to desire the best for the other person. That’s true Christian love.
Jesus gives us 3 suggestions on how to agape our enemies in verse27:
Do good, do well to others, act becomingly, treat others honorably, and respect them as humans.
Bless them, speak well of them, give them a blessing, and wish them well.
Pray for them. Lift up to God on their behalf, give them up to God, and let go.
When I was given this bible passage to talk on, I thought to myself
Who are my enemies?
I don’t have a lot of enemies.
Then I started to think about all those years of living a repressed life as a gay man in the Evangelical church. It was there that I heard that being gay is unnatural, sinful, and an abomination to God.
Then I realized my enemy was God.
I followed you my whole life, and you condemn me?
God, you promise that you answer prayers. Then why haven’t you answered mine?
God, you promise to be a healer. Then why am I still gay?
God, why aren’t you changing me? Why do I still have these feelings that won’t go away?
God, where are you? Are you real?
By God’s grace, I discovered that the Episcopal Church welcomed everyone. It turns out, that God didn’t have to answer my prayers, because there’s nothing wrong with me. Furthermore, He made me this way and loves me this way. When I thought God with my enemy, he actually was my creator and healer.
Love your enemies… why?
Because we will realize that God is abundant and generous to everyone.
There are no distinctions between gender, race, sexual orientation, faith denominations, education levels, family lineage, popularity or wealth.
God also knows that by loving our enemies, we will end the cycle of hatred that destroys our world.
Jesus purposely follows “loving your enemies” with “Do not judge”. Judging destroys, while love heals. When we judge, we become the bully. Judging inflicts a curse on others. Judging is the opposite of love.
Jesus says in verse 35 to 37, “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. By doing so, your reward will be great, and we will be children of the most high, for He is kind to the ungrateful and hateful people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Today, there are many examples of agape love and forgiveness:
Nelson Mandela and his truth and reconciliation work-to heal South Africa after apartheid through honest dialogue and dignity; During the civil rights era, Rosa Parks demonstrated non-violence which has opened our eyes to injustice towards African Americans; and Matthew Sheppard’s mother Judy Sheppard-in the pain of her son’s cruel torture, she stands tirelessly against hate violence towards the LGBTQ community.
There’s also Corrie Ten Boom.
Corrie Ten Boom, the author of “The Hiding Place”, was a Dutch woman who was imprisoned and a forced laborer during the Holocaust in WW2. When released from a Nazi occupied concentration camp, her greatest fear was that one-day she would see the soldier that tortured her and killed her relatives. One day on the streets of Amsterdam, she sees him walking towards her. She freezes and starts to sweat. Then she prayed, and it wasn’t until the very last moment that she raised her hand to shake his and said good morning. The energy current started in her shoulder, raced down her arm, sprang into their joined hands and then this healing warmth seemed to flood her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes.
Many of us live everyday holding on to anger and hatred towards our real or perceived enemies. We are constantly thinking of who has done us wrong.
Father Richard Rohr says that Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies is “simply enlightened self-awareness”. For hatred destroys us. We were created for love in our hearts and minds.
Father Rohr continues, “We don’t do this because we don’t know how. We need to call upon a larger power with great grace and a bigger love then our own. Without knowing this larger love we don’t know that we are in Christ, and that we are transformed.”
Today’s message is more relevant and practical than ever. Because our world is so wounded and divided, we need to forgive more than ever. Having agape love means a healthy love. The world needs agape love. We are to love unconditionally and love selflessly.
Imagine the world operating with agape love? There would be funding to correct homelessness, improve our entire education system, clean water for everyone, the discovery for cures, all faith traditions would collaborate together for world peace…
I believe this is what Father Rohr was referring to when he said “the larger love that will transform us”.
So, it seems that being a Christian is illogical. Because God’s love is illogical. For our Father is kind to all, we should be kind to all. Because our father is generous to all, we should do the same.
The reason I started with the quote from Lao Tsu, is that it reminds us that forgiveness restores our flexibility, so we can bend in the wind.
As God’s belovedness is shown to us, let us share it with others, so that we may bring healing to ourselves, our communities and to the world.
What is on your hearts and minds this morning?
©2019 Joshua Wong
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