Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:27-38

“Do to others as you would have them do unto you.” We know these words as the Golden Rule, right? But what you may not know is that they’re not unique to Jesus. Some version of the Golden Rule can be found in the writings of the ancient Greeks; Homer and Seneca and Philo and in virtually every major religion: It’s found in the sacred writings of Hinduism and Judaism, it’s been echoed by the voice of the Buddha and Confucius and Lau Tzu, and it can be found in the Koran, the holy text of Islam. The Golden Rule is a concept that crosses cultural and religious boundries. “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the kind of practical wisdom we learned in kindergarten when the teacher told us to treat other people the way we’d like to be treated.

Now, it’s sometimes tempting to try and boil the whole Bible down to one verse like this one. It’s a verse we can understand, and it gives us a foundation upon which we can begin the process of peacemaking; the process of getting along with each other. But unfortunately, it’s not possible to boil the whole of Scripture, or even today’s reading, down to just one verse, even one as awesome and as wise as this one. Because if we pull the Golden Rule out of today’s text as a summary of everything Jesus said, then we’ll miss the deeper message.  In other words, “doing onto others” is predicated upon “loving our enemy.” And, Jesus says, loving our enemy is lived out when we practice that laundry list of seemingly impossible or at least, improbable tasks.  A list that includes turning the other cheek, giving up your shirt along with your coat, praying for someone who’s done you wrong. In our time and in our terminology, we would call this “non-violent resistance.”

Now, we need to pause here for a second and acknowledge the fact that Jesus was speaking to those who were victims rather than victimizers; to those who were oppressed rather than their oppressors. AND this is an important distinction. It’s important because we must understand that Jesus wasn’t calling on victims to roll over and play dead! Turning the other cheek doesn’t mean be quiet and continue taking the abuse. Praying for someone who’s oppressing you doesn’t mean you’re giving them the win. That’s not it at all! Jesus isn’t telling people to remain victims, but instead, to find new ways of resisting evil.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said. And that, in concert with “do onto others” is the crux of this passage. Loving leads to peace, both inner peace for ourselves and an external peace among tribes and nations. Sharing what you have, both your material goods and of yourself, builds relationships. But it’s a two-sided coin. Violence leads only to more violence. The old adage “if you hit me, I’ll hit you back harder” doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because an even harder, more violent response will be coming your way. “You were taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you,” Jesus said, “when someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other one to them also.” Non-violent resistance.

This is the ethic that moved Dr. King to march across that bridge in Alabama, to kneel down in front of water hoses, and to be arrested without returning any of the violence being perpetrated upon him and his followers. Now, many people thought he was crazy. “Only violence can fight violence,” they told him. But the authorities didn’t know what to do with this kind of non-violent resistance. They knew the power of violence and they knew the powerlessness of victims who knew their place, but this was something they hadn’t seen before: victims who refused to be victims, victims who refused to fight back with violence, victims who claimed their place and reshaped the battle completely.[I]

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

And I know, these are tough word to wrap our minds around and maybe even tougher to live-out. But when I hear these words from Jesus, I can’t help but remember the words of a grieving mother; grieving for the loss of her son, Matthew. Mathew Shepherd. Do you remember him? Matthew Shepherd was brutally beaten for no other reason than being gay. Two homophobic men beat him over and over again, they tied him to a fence on a country road and left him, bleeding and alone, to die in the freezing night. And by the time someone found him the next morning and got him to the hospital, there was no way to save him. Matthew Shepherd died as hundreds stood in candlelight vigil outside the hospital.

Now, the two men who killed Matthew were arrested, tried, and convicted of a hate crime. Proved guilty of first-degree murder, they were given the death penalty in accordance with the law of the state of Wyoming. But Matthew’s mother came before the judge asking the judge to spare the lives of these guilty men; these men who brutally murdered her son.

I cannot begin to understand what she must have gone through in all the agonizing months leading up to the trial? What mother could sleep with images of her beloved son tied to a fence, beaten and alone through the cold night? What sort of people could do this to another human being? But there she was, pleading for the lives of her son’s killers.[ii]

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you.”

Matthew’s mother, I would contend, demonstrated a faith that was shaped by a gospel that’s deeper than hatred, stronger than revenge. And that’s the gospel that Jesus would have each of us take out into the world as we continue to be the church.  A gospel of inclusion, of extravagant welcome, of opening our hearts and door and minds to all kinds of new possibilities and people; it’s a gospel that challenges us to think of the “other” before “self” by sharing our lives and our faith and our wealth with those who are lonely or struggling or hungry. It’s a gospel that, on the surface anyway, may not seem very practical, or even probable in our nation’s climate of hate-filled rhetoric and distrust. But, my friends, it’s finally a gospel of love, love of God, love of neighbor, love of the environment, and yes, love of enemy; it’s finally a gospel of love that will change this world.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you.”

May it be so for you and for me.

Amen & Amen.

——————————————-

[i] Barbara K. Lundblad. Simple, But Not So Simple (www.Day1.org) 2001

[ii] Ibid Lundblad.

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