What does it mean to love your enemies? To love your enemies is to be like David, hated and hunted by, King Saul, through every field and cave of Israel; to play the harp to soothe his anger only to be repaid by a spear being hurled at you; to have served king and country only to have both betray you. Love for your enemy is to be so close to Saul to be able to cut off a corner of his tunic with your own knife, but instead to stay the blade from your enemy’s flesh. Love for your enemy is to stand over him while he sleeps in his camp, able to pin him to the earth with one stroke of your spear and yet instead to pardon him, spare him, and even rebuke those who tried to convince you otherwise.
That is love for your enemies. Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love. There’s still more.
What does it mean to love your enemies? To love your enemies is to be like Hosea, commanded by God to marry Gomer, the harlot, in order to show God’s faithfulness to His people; to face ridicule and judgment for following God’s command. Love for your enemy is to bring shame on yourself for the sake of the people so that in remaining faithful to faithless woman, Israel’s redemption might be revealed. Love for your enemy is when a husband has mercy on adulterous Gomer, making known the mercy of God’s faithfulness to His bride, Israel. That is love for your enemies. Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love. There’s still more.
What does it mean to love your enemies? To love your enemies is to be like Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, hated by the religious authorities, falsely slandered and accused of blasphemy, seized and brought before a kangaroo council. Love for your enemies is to be surrounded by your executors and to face them – not with retaliation but with Jesus’ words of repentance and forgiveness of sins upon your lips. Love for your enemies is to cry out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” - even as they stone you to death. That is love for your enemies. Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love. There’s still more.
Love your enemies. Jesus says. Love your enemies – not as David, or Hosea or Stephen but as your Father in heaven. To truly love your enemies is to be like God; to seek to embrace your fallen children only to have them shove you away and spit in your face; to heal the sick, only to have them reject the Great Physician; to feed the hungry only to have them grumble about the taste; to clothe the naked only to have them protest that you haven’t clothed them in name-brands; to open your hands and offer them everything the Father has to give, only to have them pierce those hands with nails, raise you in the air and watch, mock and chuckle as you slowly bleed to death. That is perfect love for your enemies. There is no greater love.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners – rebels, enemies of God - Christ died for us.
It’s easy to love those who love you. Even the tax collectors knew that and they didn’t have thousands Facebook friends. The real reason loving your enemy is so difficult - and by your old Adam, impossible – is because you love yourself too much. You think others might take advantage of your kindness – and they might. But all free gifts and true love hold the possibility of being abused and rejected, otherwise they wouldn’t be free, it wouldn’t be love. So while you expect others to be understanding of your shortcomings and patient with your failures and thank you for everything you do for them you do not hold yourself to the same standard.
Yes, you are very good at loving others, but only when it suits your purposes. When it comes to those who have hurt us, injured our pride, or stabbed us in the back. We want justice: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth; you bite me I bite you back; you take what is mine, I’ll take what is yours. That makes sense. But justice will not bring love, only recompense. Love comes from mercy.
It’s not pacifism. It’s not tolerance. It’s mercy…mercy in the shape of the cross. Mercy in the pattern of Him who poured out His reckless crimson love for you. It is true that you love yourself more than your enemies, but it is far better – of infinite truth – that our Lord loves His enemies more than Himself. For you who were like King Saul, the Son of David pardons, spares and defends. For you, the New and Greater Hosea bears your shame and buys you back through His faithfulness unto death.
Jesus loves even the worst of His enemies, chief of sinners – yes, even you. Your sin is no match for His love. Perfect love is shown in Crucified mercy. Jesus withstands evil by not taking a stand against evil – He takes evil into Himself where it dies forever. He offers His left and right cheek to the scornful slap of the Sanhedrin and then turns His whole body to the whip; He lets the Roman soldiers take both His tunic and His cloak as they cast dice over him; He picks up His cross and walks more a mile to Golgotha. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. And that is the fullness of what it means to love.
For the love of Christ is not like your love. His love does not seek the lovable, the likeable, the one who will love Him back. God’s love finds you before you were created, formed in your mother’s womb. That is the kind of love that now fills you. The Love that creates you, calls you, forms you, you are salt and light and love.
What does it mean to love your enemies? It means that you are Baptized sons of the Father. And the bloody, watery cross of Christ is traced upon your forehead and your heart forever. You’ve traded sides – or better yet – been captured behind enemy lines and taken hostage by the Holy Spirit whose love proceeds from the Father and the Son to you. Now you are love. And don’t let anybody tell you anything different.
For the real definition of love is to love those who hate you. To love your enemies is to pardon those who hate you; to forgive and love for those who would seek to harm you in body or soul; To love to the loveless, to be mercy to the unmerciful. To live in reckless generosity for the neighbor in need: offering your right and left cheek, giving your tunic and cloak, walking more than a mile, giving to those in need. Sure, this merciful generosity will be taken advantage and abused. So be it. In this way, you show forth the reality that you are sons of the Father. Jesus shows no partiality and neither do His disciples. And in this love is perfected.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.