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February 22, 2004

Love Your Enemies

(Luke 6: 27-38)

The good news is that God loves each one of us infinitely, unconditionally, and completely. We don’t deserve it, we can’t claim credit for it, and we can’t earn it, but we are personally loved, infinitely loved by God. And Jesus wants us to live in that divine love, to love one another and our neighbors, and with this great commandment, to love even our enemies.

But who wants to do that? I don’t want to “do good to those who hate me, bless those who curse me, pray for those who mistreat me, give to those who ask of me, or forgive those who hurt me.” There’s a part of me that wants to do bad to those who hate me, curse those who curse me, pray only for those who treat me well, not give to anyone, and not forgive anyone.” Yet Jesus calls us here to a great, unselfish, generous love.

I have always wondered why I am so stingy with love when God is generous with love to me? What keeps me from loving everyone? What do I have to lose by loving everyone? Why not love every human being on the planet? Why not try to love even my enemies as Jesus says? So this is the hope and prayer of my life, that I may fulfill this text, and it’s my hope and prayer for all of you, that we can do these great things more and more. I think we’re all headed to heaven where the scales will fall from our eyes and we will spend eternity in love with God and everyone, so Jesus is telling us not to wait until we die and go to heaven, but to start loving everyone everywhere right now, today.

This great text, the Sermon on the Plain, is the heart of the Gospel. This great commandment “Love your enemies” is the center of everything Jesus say. Notice he doesn’t say, “Like your enemies,” he says “Love them,” and Luke uses that unusual Greek word “agape,” meaning to practice a generous, all-inclusive, unconditional, sacrificial, nonviolent, heartfelt love toward everyone everywhere, especially those people declared by one’s nation and government to be enemies.

So who are our enemies? After studying the text, I don’t think it refers to the person down the street with whom we have a problem. I think he’s speaking of nations who are opposed by our nation. It’s a political term. Currently, the United States government has declared the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia, North Korea, Libya, Iran, Haiti and Cuba, among others, to be our enemies. And like every government, we’re commanded not to love our enemies, but to kill our enemies or support their killing. That’s what you do to enemies. You dehumanize people, and conclude that they are no longer human and they can be disposed of. That’s what we’ve been doing these days, killing thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine and Colombia. It’s not usually reported on TV or in the paper. But we are good at killing our enemies and obeying our murderous government.

But Jesus comes along today and says, “No more killing! From now on, you are not allowed to kill your enemies. Your job is to love your enemies, to stand with them, walk with them, speak up for them and defend them, no matter what people say, no matter what your government orders.”

And notice he doesn’t say, “Love your enemies, except when they do bad things, then you can kill them.” There is no just war theory in this text. There are no conditions, no exceptions to the rule, no circumstances where we are allowed to bomb anyone. He expects us to follow him and obey him and have an attitude of love toward the Iraqis, the Afghanis, the Palestinians, the Colombians, and people everywhere, no matter what.

So I don’t understand why we Catholics don’t do what the Gospel says; why we support war like everyone else (what credit is that to you? Jesus asks); why we send our young people off to the national guard to kill and be killed; why we obey the president and the Pentagon but not Jesus; why we think Jesus could never understand our problems.

Perhaps deep down we think Jesus is naïve, idealistic and impractical. We patronize Jesus, pat him on the head and say, “Well, that’s beautiful Jesus,” and then walk away from him thinking, “Well, that’s completely unrealistic.” But I think he is completely realistic, the most practical person who ever lived because loving our enemies is not just good for them, but good for us, for our own safety and eternal salvation. It not only wins the world over to us as we love everyone, (and ensures that people won’t want to bomb us because they will all love us in return) but it teaches us how to rely on God for our security, how to trust God to protect us, how to grow in faith.

In the end, Jesus says love your enemies because God loves God’s enemies and you are God’s sons and daughters so you have to be like God. So I invite us to think again how we can show love for our enemies, for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine, how we can put this text into practice, how we can do all these great things and “bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, forgive those who hurt us, give to those who ask of us, and do to others as we would have them do to us.”

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and we begin the holy season of Lent, forty days of renewed prayer and penance and repentance and turning back to God, and I invite all of us to enter this holy season with a new spirit of prayer and penance, to fast on Wednesday for ourselves and for peace, to renounce violence and to work at growing in love for everyone everywhere, that we might become, as Jesus says, “as merciful and compassionate as God.”

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