We find ourselves in the sixth chapter of Luke, verses twenty-seven through thirty-one. Our reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is in Galilee, which means his popularity is high. The Master ascends to a high piece of land, not to escape the crowd, but to be heard by the crowd. From that lofty position, the Master teaches them about the Kingdom of God. He sets the bar high by giving them the Beatitudes. The word beatitude means “supreme blessedness. You remember them. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who weep, and the rest. To the secular world those seem ridiculous. To the believer those words are a great challenge. The standards are high in the Kingdom of God.
I find verse twenty-seven to be extremely challenging. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” There is nothing difficult about these words. They are straightforward. You do not need an advanced degree to unlock some hidden meaning. They are as clear as clear can be. Jesus expects us to love our enemies. However, those words run contrary to our society. Many find it much easier to hate. We would like to dismiss these words, but we can’t do it. Why? Because they are Jesus’s words, and we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to be like Jesus. If Jesus said, love your enemies, we must love our enemies. We have no excuse for not trying, because Jesus loved his enemies. Let me ask you this uncomfortable question: How many enemies do you have in your world?
Who are our political enemies? It is a good question. It is the same question the people at Statista asked Americans. Their results were released in March of 2021. America has a complex relationship with many countries around the world, but here are our top five enemies:
Do you agree those five countries are our enemies? Is there another country you would like to add to the list? I would like to add any country that promotes terrorist activities. Those countries are easy to hate, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Few Americans are praying for Vladimir Putin (born 1952) these days. Are you willing to love those countries, or do you as a disciple of Jesus Christ have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community also has enemies.
Who are your community’s enemies? It is a good question. In 2017, Kristen O’Conner (born 1990) and June Schweinhart (born 1989) were friends. The two young women did not meet in school. They met in drug rehab. It may have been they had a common interest. It may have been that they were both pregnant. When rehab ended, they stayed in touch. At some point the two women got together with their newborns. Things did not go well. Before the day was done, the two were overdosing on heroine in the front seat of a car as the newborns sat in their car seats in the back. It is safe to say that rehab did not work for the women. Drugs have become such a big part of our society. Everyone seems to know someone on drugs. Everyone seems to know someone who died prematurely because of drugs. Many people believe the dark organizations who are providing the drugs are our community’s enemy. They may be right. It is easy to hate those organizations and those local drug dealers, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Are you willing to love those drug dealers, or do you have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community has enemies. Be honest with yourself. You have personal enemies. The Bible is filled with personal enemies. Let me give you just two.
Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel? They were the sons of Adam and Eve. The boys could have had a great life, but their parents ate from the fruit of the tree. For this sin they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Forced to work for a living, Abel became a shepherd and Cain a farmer. In time, the boys brought their offerings to the Lord. Cain, the farmer, brought some fruit. Abel, the shepherd, brought fresh meat. The Lord looked at both the fruit and meat and favored the meat. (So would I.) Cain grew jealous of his brother and killed him. It is not surprising that the first murder in the history of the world occurred within a family unit. We are expected to love our family members, but it doesn’t always happen. Do you have a family member who you hate? Do you have a family member who hates you?
Do you remember the story of Joseph, the well-built handsome young man? He knew what it was like to have enemies within his own family. He was one of twelve brothers. Can you imagine having eleven brothers? Can you imagine having eleven brothers when you are your father’s favorite? To demonstrate his favored status, Jacob, their father, gave Joseph the famous coat of many colors. That coat was more than his brothers could handle, so they came up with a plan. The brothers tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. The truth is, Joseph, the dreamer, was sold into slavery. In the end, it all worked out for Joseph, but for a while Joseph had some difficult days. I have always marveled at the fact that Joseph was able to forgive his brothers and mend the family’s wounds. You can ask Joseph and he will tell you it is easy to have enemies within the family.
Who are your personal enemies? Your personal enemy can be a family member. Your personal enemy can be a neighbor. Your personal enemy can be a fellow worker or classmate. Your personal enemy can be a fellow church member. It is easy to hate those people, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Are you willing to love that person, or do you have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community has enemies. You have personal enemies. This last question is the hardest one to tackle.
Have you ever felt like your own worst enemy? What is it about yourself you hate? Everyone has something. Do you wish you were thinner? Do you wish you were taller? Do you wish you were younger? Do you wish you were smarter? Do you wish you could stop spending? Do you wish you could stop smoking or drinking? Do you wish you could stop being so negative and critical? Do you wish you could stop gossiping? Do you wish they were braver? Do you wish you have made better decisions when you were younger? Do you wish you could love your most personal enemy, yourself? Do you like the person you are? When was the last time you prayed for yourself?
In 2017, PBS aired a ten-part series on the Vietnam War. In total, it lasted eighteen hours. They interviewed more than eighty eyewitnesses from all sides of the conflict. I was interested in the topic because I was fifteen years old when it ended. There was much I wanted to learn. In my opinion, the first episode was the best. It covered approximately 100 years of Vietnamese history – how the French colonized Vietnam and how the United States got involved in Vietnam. I wanted to watch all ten episodes, but I couldn’t do it. The topic was too heavy and sad. This is what I learned that still haunts me. In 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-1963) told an aide, it was an unwinnable war. The Vietnam War lasted ten more years.
We stayed in Vietnam for two reasons, Cold War fears and national arrogance. The war was unwinnable for a variety of reasons. One of the greatest problems in the war was that our soldiers couldn’t identify the enemy. Anyone could have been their enemy, men, and women, young and old. This next line disturbs me. Innocent people died because they couldn’t identify the true enemy. The soldiers on the ground felt like they were constantly surrounded by the enemy. They learned to hate everyone. Maybe that is one of the reasons we struggle with Jesus’s words for today? We are surrounded by our enemies, and in the end, we hate everyone. It isn’t just the story of the Vietnam War. It is how many in our world operate, but you know better.
You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. That means you are trying to be more like Jesus all the time. That means you must listen to what Jesus said and apply it to your life. Jesus said, love your enemies! It runs contrary to our world, but we must try.Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) once prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love.”