Love your enemy …
Three of the most challenging words Jesus ever said. Love your enemy. How is that possible?
There’s a story about Jesus that gives us a hint, it isn’t in any of the gospels. It is a story actually attributed to a Muslim, a great Sufi teacher. It goes ….
As Jesus and his disciples entered a village …
some of the villagers began to harass Jesus …
shouting unkind words and harsh accusations.
But Jesus answered them by bowing down
and offering words of blessing.
A disciple said to him, “Aren’t you angry with them?
How can you bless them?” Jesus answered,
“I can only give what I have in my purse.”
The purse in this story is, of course, a metaphor for our heart.
The word Jesus used for love in this passage was Agape. The love Jesus is talking about is not the love of lovers – Eros – or even the love of close friends - Philia. The love Jesus is talking about - Agape - is instead an attitude of thinking positive thoughts, wishing the best for other people even enemies.
We saw this love displayed even at the worst moment of Jesus’ life, as he hung on the cross he prayed for his executioners. Why? Because that was all he had in his heart. That’s who he was. Jesus is asking us today to take a good honest look at ourselves because we too can only give what we carry in our hearts – our purse. And the truth is this advice, to love our enemy, is much more practical than it sounds at first.
Nelson Mandela, the leader of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, who became the first black president of South Africa, spent 27 years in prison. If anyone had a right to hate his enemies he did. Mandela once said something we all should think about. He said …
“Holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies from it.”
To fill ourselves with love for our enemy as Jesus tells us to rather than the poison of hate is in truth a prescription for our happiness. Martin Luther King Jr. – our great civil rights leader – once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.”
On March 30, an1981 President Ronald Reagan had just finished a luncheon talk at the Washington Hilton Hotel. As he and his entourage left the hotel, a gunman fired six shots. The president and three of his aides were hit. He was rushed to the hospital where they saved his life. Later, Reagan described in his biography what went on in his mind as doctors began working on him. The president said: “I focused on the tile ceiling and prayed. But I realized, he said, I could not ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who shot me. We are all God’s children and therefore equally loved by God. So I began to pray for the young man.” Having prayed for him, Reagan could then calmly ask God to help him, which God did. That inspiring story from Reagan’s biography brings us to today’s Gospel. “Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you.”
It is remarkable that in such a critical condition President Reagan should recall that hard teaching of Jesus. It is even more remarkable that he not only recalled it but put it into practice instantly. How do you do that? How do you become the kind of person who lives with love so ingrained in us that it’s the way you respond, it’s what you are carrying in your purse?
What’s in your purse?
When we are hurt, attacked, insulted how do we react? We have a choice with hatred or with love. In that choice lies our growth and our happiness. We can drink the poison of hate, or we can return hate with love. If we have filled our purse – our hearts – with love we will choose love as a response.
What’s in your purse?
One of the most dramatic examples of loving one’s enemy, of returning love for hate, came for me from the story of a prayer that was found at Ravensbruck WWII concentration camp where 92,000 women and children died. It was scrawled on wrapping paper near a dead child. The note was a prayer for his captors, his executioners.
The prayer says …
O Lord remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will. Do not remember the suffering they inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to our suffering:
- our comradeship with one another
- our loyalty to one another
- our courage
- our generosity
- and our greatness of heart … that has grown out of all this.
And when they come before you for judgment, let all the fruits that we have reaped through our suffering, be their forgiveness.
You have to wonder how this boy could writing this message of love he could because it was what was in his heart his purse.
What’s in your purse?