Sometimes when I’m bored I kinda like to fill in sound effects that I think the crowd listening to Jesus might have responded with. He takes familiar passages And says “you have heard this (and everyones like “yeah!) and then he goes but I say this” (and everyone’s like booo) he does this with messianic authority several times in the Sermon on the Mount like in today’s reading when he says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (and everyones like “yeah!) 39But I say to you, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; (and everyone’s like boo!)
Jesus takes the part of the law of Moses which prevented disproportional punishment…. the let the punishment fit the crime statute found in Exodus 21 and turns it on it’s head like Jesus loves to do. OK, fair enough.
But then the next part says this.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
So where exactly is it is written you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies? That’s just not found in the Torah. I searched for it…it’s not there, sure the love your neighbor thing is in the old testament but hate your enemy? good luck , it’s like trying to look for “God helps those who help themselves” It’s simply not in the Bible. But then I realized why love your neighbor and hate your enemy sounds so familiar …. ‘cause, it might not be in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure it’s in my heart. It’s like, in our DNA. So if you’re trying to find where Love your neighbor and hate your enemy is found don’t look in the old testament…look here. When I realized this it felt like a bad horror movie “the phone call is coming from inside the house” See In my heart I want to savor my anger and resentments. I mean you may be able to turn them into love but my anger and hatred is special. It’s justified and if I can get other people to hate the people I hate then all the better. Knowing why each of my enemies clearly deserves to be hated is like a big delicious meal, until I realize I’m the main course. Because hatred is simply a corrosive form of spiritual bondage. So Jesus says Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
Now before we go on let me say this: loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you is not the same as saying that it’s ok that someone has caused you emotional, spiritual or physical harm. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should dismiss, discount or diminish the very real harm done to us by damaged people.
So when Jesus says love your enemies I just don’t think he means try and muster up a positive emotional feeling about despicable people. Loving those who persecute you is simply not the same as saying you should feel affection toward the people who have hurt you, or that you should feel fondness for people who are mean to you at work. I just don’t think this about our feelings. Because the Greek word Jesus uses when he tells us to love our enemies is Agape and Agape love simply isn’t about what we feel in our hearts. It’s not a sentiment. I actually don’t think it has to do with feelings at all…agape is the love that’s only possible through the indwelling of God’s spirit.
And I don’t think he means think nice thoughts even. Remember when your mom made you apologize to your brother or sister and you just kind of phoned it in “sorry.” and she was like “say it like you mean it…it doesn’t count if you don’t mean it” Yeah…this isn’t like that. I think loving our enemies might be too central to the gospel…too close to the heart of Jesus for it to wait until we mean it. I don’t mean it. And my heart, remember… the very place where I found that impulse that I am to love my neighbor and hate my enemy isn’t going to purify itself. So if God is waiting for that same heart to feel nice loving warm pink fuzzy things about someone who is my enemy well, I think God might be waiting awhile.
So if it’s not a feeling we try really really hard to create in our own hearts maybe Agape-ing… loving our enemies is actually an action. Because given the choice between feeling the thing and doing the thing I think the doing of the thing that is what’s critical here. And maybe “really meaning it” is not the prerequisite to just doing it and maybe the action we take is simply this: you pray for those who persecute you. Commend them to God. You don’t have to feel affection for them…just hand em over. Because this counter-intuitive act of enemy love requires prayer. It doesn’t require the right feelings of niceness or generosity, It requires that we commend our enemies to the one who has perfected the love of enemy. It requires being in the prayerful presence of a God who was killed by God’s enemies and then rather than retaliation, rather than violence, rather than an eye for an eye God used that same death to be the very thing that ends up being the source of their salvation.
So maybe when Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you it’s not so that you can be good. It’s so you can be free. this freedom from the corrosive distortions of hatred this freedom from having to protect our selves and prove ourselves and preserve our rightness. Well, this is the freedom of the Gospel. This is the freedom of a God who loves God’s own enemies enough to die for them.
I’ll end with a story about how you just never know when God might make your enemy your friend. A man named Chris Roseborough hosts a conservative Christian talk radio show called Pirate Christian Radio. And a couple months after he had spent 2 of his shows talking about me and how I am disobeying God by being a female pastor and how I’m a heretic because I have gay folks in my church and well, you get the idea. Well a couple months after this he showed up to a conference I was speaking at in the Twin Cities. Now you should know something about me. My first response to almost everything is screw you. Now I almost never stay there but I almost always start there. God usually pretty quickly moves me to something a little more gracious but that doesn’t change my wiring. I’m a fighter. So when I heard he was there I went into a little mini rage screw that guy he shouldn’t even be here, don’t show me who he is I’m not talking to him. Clearly he was my enemy. But the next day a middle aged guy with a beer gut and a bad goatee walks up to me after I had spoken extends his hand and says “Hi. I’m Chris…” I swallowed hard, extended my hand said a quick “help me” prayer and we proceeded to have a conversation about our need for God’s grace and forgiveness of sins and the Eucharist. A conversation in which he cried twice. At the end I said “Chris, I have 2 things to say to you. 1. You are a beautiful child of God and 2. I think you and I were desperate enough to hear the gospel today that we might even hear it from each other. Now Chris calls me about every couple months and we talk for like an hour. He hasn’t written about me or talked about me on his radio show and he’s gotten in a lot of trouble form his followers for calling me his friend. Now…did this happen because I managed to make my heart feel really nice warm fuzzy feelings toward him? clearly not. I can’t stand the guy. This was a loving-my-enemy that only could flow from the heart of a forgiving God. The same God who in the book of Ezekial says I your God will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I your God will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
And THAT is what freedom feels like. May it be so. Amen