Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-44)
In today’s divided world, Christ’s admonition in our reading from the Sermon on the Mount seems quite paradoxical to us. How are we supposed to love our enemies? How are we supposed to pray for them? What does loving our enemies even mean?
All three of our readings in the lectionary for today focus on following God with our whole heart—does that include loving others like God loves humanity? In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, R.T. France writes, “to ‘love’ (agapao) in the [New Testament] is not only a matter of emotion but also of an attitude which determines our behavior, acting for the good of others.” Loving your enemies is not thinking fondly of them or even merely being polite; it seems to be behaving in such a way that you actively seek what’s good for everyone around you.
In a sermon delivered at the 2014 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace in Oklahoma City, former Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said, “Enemy literally means ‘not a friend.’ Acting out of love begins to change that: it begins in our hearts in response to threat and stranger, and it moves out across families, communities, and nations.” If we act with the love of demonstrated by Christ, then perhaps we can heal the divisions in our lives and in our culture.
The readings here remind us that we best demonstrate that we are followers of Christ by seeking what is best for those around us—even those we may consider our enemies. As we seek to be reconciled to God during this season of Lent, may we be reconciled to our enemies—our not-yet-friends—through the Love of Christ.
Appointed readings for today: Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Psalm 119:1-8, Matthew 5:43-48