Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 14

“Love your enemies . . .”  – Matthew 5:44 

Several years ago a friend of mine was invited to speak at a conference where he unintentionally offended one of the participants in the audience who sent him a scathing text message afterwards.  How painful that must have been to receive such a message!  Yet, if he indeed felt angry and hurt, as I am sure he did, he certainly didn’t respond by lashing back at the man.  Instead, he sent a polite invitation to his persecutor to join him for coffee the next morning, which much to the man’s credit he graciously accepted.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” Jesus said in his famous Sermon on the Mount.  “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  I have always struggled with this one.  How is it possible to love someone who my natural inclination is to hate, and with some justification, someone who is insulting, mean, and vicious, who falsely accuses me of something I said or did, is set to do me harm physically or emotionally, or take away what is rightfully mine?  To turn the other cheek, then to forgive, that’s one thing.  But to love my enemy?

My friend never disclosed what was said between he and the other gentleman, nor whether either of them was convinced to change his point of view.  What did become clear was that after sharing a cup of coffee and some civil discourse, they both walked away, maybe not as friends, but with a new-found respect for one another as human beings.  Is that what it means to love our enemies?  I’m not sure, but for me it came as close to helping me understand it as any modern day story I know.

Oh, how much easier it is to hate our enemies and persecutors than to love them!  But this is Holy Week, the holiest week of the year for Christians.  We recall the Passion story of Christ, beginning with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, only to be put on trial based on false allegations, then brutally executed before a jeering crowd.  Jesus had every right to be angry and hurt.  Yet, how did he respond?  Like my friend who, instead of lashing out, invited his persecutor to have coffee, Jesus invited the thief on the cross next to him to join him in paradise – an invitation intended not just for the repentant thief, but for everyone, even those who drove the nails into his hands and feet.  That’s what I call loving your enemies, don’t you think?

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