2nd Sunday of St. Luke (Luke 6:31-36)
When was the last time someone slapped you or hit you in the face? Maybe it was a parent when you talked back to them or used foul language. Maybe it was on the playground as a little kid or drunk at a bar in college. Maybe it never happened. We should be so fortunate. However, how many of us have been slapped in the face with an insult about our appearance or about where we cam from? How many of us have been stabbed in the back with gossip or slander about our character or our habits? Whether it was a physical slap or a verbal one, how did we respond? Did we hit back? Did we consider that person an enemy? Most likely, at some point in our lives, we did.
What does Jesus say about getting slapped in the face? In Matthew 5:39 he says But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. In today’s Gospel reading from the Second Sunday of Luke 6:31-36, Jesus doesn’t say, “Do to others as they do to you.” No, He says, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (v.31). Easy to say, tough to do, especially when someone is not treating me like I want to be treated. In order to help us, let’s put ourselves in our enemy’s shoes for a moment.
So we thought, until psychology and psychiatry came along and taught us a few things about hostility and hostile people. Specifically, they told us that a hostile person hates because he fears you will strike him. So, to protect himself, he strikes first. He is hostile because he expects hostility and hatred from you. The last thing he expects is love. So if, instead of hatred, you give him love, you will disarm him. Even though he may not consciously know it, love is what he craves more than anything else. And love is the only thing that can destroy his hostility.
Instead, we say to our enemy or about our enemy: ‘Give him the devil!’ (Gr. ‘sto diavolo’) Or we might say ‘as sto kalo’ (give him to the good) and actually mean the opposite. However, our enemy already has the devil. What they need is God. Give them to God (Gr. ‘sto Theo’ or ‘sto Christo’). To love our enemy is to give him or to God.
Again, let’s put ourselves in our enemy’s place. The very fact that a person dislikes us may mean that he/she needs us. His soul is warped by his hatred of us, but we alone can warm him and free him. Ashley Montagu, a British anthropologist, once wrote, “Show me a hardened criminal, a juvenile delinquent, a psychopath or a ‘cold fish’ and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means in order to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get but which he so much desires and needs. ‘Aggressive’ behavior when fully understood is, in fact, nothing but love frustrated, a technique for compelling love – as well as means for taking revenge on society which has let that person down, disillusioned, deserted and dehumanized him. Hence, the best way to approach aggressive behavior in children is not by further aggressive behavior towards them, but with love. And this is true not only for children but for human beings of all ages.”
But why is loving our enemy so difficult? One primary reason is it’s so illogical and highly impractical. To love our enemy, is to allow him to take advantage of us. To love our enemy is to let him step all over us. That does not make any sense. We want justice and loving our enemy seems so unjust.
In his book “Gems from the Sunday Gospels in the Orthodox Church” (vol. 2 p.21-24) Fr. Anthony Coniaris, writes: “Love your enemies. The man who makes your misery his policy, who dogs your steps, who sets snares for your feet, who twists your words, who is always pointing out the fly in the ointment, and who is never happier than when he is slowly dropping bitterness into your cup; your enemy: love him. Love him for My sake, says Jesus. Love him “even as I have loved you.” But love him also because your enemy is first of all an enemy to himself. The bitterness that he drops into your cup has, first of all, poisoned his own cup. Forget the superficial injury he inflicts on you and think of the fatal injury he is inflicting upon himself. On your part he creates bitterness; on his part he commits suicide”.
The justice we seek in some sense has already been carried out. As the great Russian priest, Father John of Kronstadt, writes in his inspiring book The Life of Christ: “Every person that does any evil, that gratifies any passion, is sufficiently punished by the evil he has committed, by the passions he serves, but chiefly by the fact that he withdraws himself from God, and God withdraws Himself from him: it would therefore be insane and most inhuman to nourish anger against such a man; it would be the same as to drown a sinking man, or push into the fire a person who is already being devoured by the flame. To such a man, as to one in danger of perishing, we must show double love, and pray fervently to God for him; not judging him, not rejoicing at his misfortune. For my sake, says Jesus, but for their sakes, too. ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.’”(Mt.5:44)
Fr. Coniaris asks the obvious question, “Why must I love my enemy?” He answers, first of all, my enemy, more than anything else, needs love. Second, love is the only force capable of transforming my enemy into a friend. Third, returning hate for hate only multiplies hate. Love is the only thing that can break the vicious circle. Finally, we love our enemies because Jesus said that if we do, our “reward will be great” and we will become “sons of the Most High” (v.35). God wants us to be like Him. Shortly before He died, Jesus told His disciples: “A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). And then from the Cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk.23:34). How can we be like God if we don’t practice the same love He had for us sinners who betray Him and crucify Him every day?
Let us conclude with a story. A man once bought a farm and was walking the bounds of his new property when he met his next-door neighbor. “Don’t look now,” said the neighbor, “but when you bought this piece of ground, you also bought a law-suit with me. Your fence is ten feet over on my land.” Now this is a classic opening for a feud that could go on for centuries and create generations of enemies. But the new owner smiled and said, “I thought I’d find some friendly neighbors here, and I’m sure I will. And you’re going to help me. Move the fence where you want it, and send me the bill. You’ll be satisfied and I’ll be happy too”. Well, the fence was never moved and the potential enemy was never the same again. He became a friendly neighbor. Love quenched the fire of hatred.
The acid test of love is not whether we love our friends but whether we love our enemies. A great Russian Saint asked, “How do we know whether a person abides in God and is sincere in his Christian faith? There is no other way of ascertaining this other than by examining the person’s life to see if he loves his enemies. Where there is love for one’s enemy, there also is God.” Chesterton said once, “Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all.” Amen!