Love Your Enemies

ImageEpiphany 7A – Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:38-48

February 23, 2014


When someone wrongs us,

            it’s not often that our first instinct is prayer.

(Or maybe it is prayer, but certainly not the kind of prayer Jesus talks about –

            not prayer on behalf of the one who wronged us.)


Even our own Martin Luther

            was known to have some choice words for those who disagreed with him –

                        and they don’t sound to me like prayers!

“You are a toad-eater!”

“You are like one drunk or asleep speaking between your snores!”

“I beg you put your glasses on your nose, or blow your nose a bit, to make your head lighter and the brain clearer.”

“You are like mouse-droppings in the pepper.”

            …and these are the tame ones!


Do they sound like prayers to you?

No,most of us react in anger to those who attack us,

            not with prayer but with fighting back,

                        if not with fists, than with words.


In today’s gospel reading Jesus says

“Do not resist an evildoer.

             But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

 … Which is why when we hear of someone actually doing what Jesus said –

            responding not with hostility but with care and concern and even love for an enemy,

                        its unnaturalness makes  us pause.


Last night one of the news stations

            was sharing the story of Cecil Mills, the 77 year old man from northeast DC

                        who had a heart attack across the street from a fire station.

                                    Through a series of missteps,

                                                no one came to help immediately

                                                            and Cecil later died.


His daughter, in the midst of her sadness and anger,

            shared what she thought Cecil would have said.

She didn’t think he would have talked about getting even.

She thought that her father would’ve said, “ ‘Can’t we send them back for training?’

She said, “He would’ve hated for folks to lose their livelihoods over this. He would’ve given them a second chance.”[1]

                        That sounds like prayer to me – a very courageous prayer.


Earlier this week, in a report on Olympic alpine skiing,

            a reporter was speaking tongue-in-cheek about his annoyance

                        with the sound of cowbells.

Apparently it’s a European tradition in alpine skiing

            to bring cowbells to watch the event

                        and to ring them loudly to cheer the skiers on.

                                    (because it’s hard to clap with mittens on.)


He interviewed a Norwegian spectator who was happily ringing a cowbell

            on the sidelines.

            He asked her,

                        “what does it sound like when there’s a Swede skiing by?”

                                    and she rang the bell.

            and then he asked her,

                        “so what does it sound like when there’s a Norwegian skiing by?”

                                    and she rang the bell- it sounded just the same.


A skier from Zimbabwe who wound up in 61st place

            said that when he reached the finish line,

                        much of the crowd had left,

                                    but he heard the cowbells still cheering him on.

That was prayer – prayer for a competitor.


Gandhi once remarked, that if we live by an eye for an eye,

            a tooth for a tooth,

                        the whole world will one day leave the whole world blind.

His practice of nonviolent resistance

            came from the realization that humanity can do better

                        than blinding each other.


In the midst of the injustices of the civil rights era,  the Rev Martin Luther king Jr.

            also called on the practice  of nonviolent resistance.

He said that he preached on this text,

            “love your enemies,” at least once/year.


In one of these sermons, from the Dexter Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama,

            in 1957, king noted how difficult it was to follow this command of Jesus.[2]


King said,


(A) way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.


There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person.


It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love.


 In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something.


Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual.


When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.


And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.”


And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something.


There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them.


But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them.”


If King can preach love,

            if cowbells can ring for love,

                        if a dying man can ask for love,

                                    there is hope that the whole world will not become blind.

Love your enemies is difficult,

            But it is not impossible.




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