Love Your Enemies / Golden Rule
1 Sam 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Ps 103; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
When President Abraham Lincoln was once asked why he tried to make friends of his enemies rather than destroy them, he simply and gently replied, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”
In the Gospel reading today, the Lord asks us twice to love our enemies and immediately expounds it into three exhortations: to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, and to pray for those who offend you. The Lord speaks out against vindictiveness in retaliation for mistreatment or injury. Jesus challenges us that we overcome hatred and oppression, not through power, but through kindness, forgiveness and love. He gave us an example even at His last breath on the cross. He made excuses for those who crucified Him, saying they did not know what they were doing.
There may be people who have harmed me, deprived me of what is rightfully mine, made a fool of me. But look at what David did. David could have killed his mortal enemy Saul, but he didn’t. He took his spear and jug as trophies to prove his mildness and forbearance, perhaps his love, and as proof of his not having done to his enemy what he could have done, killed him.
What would have happened if we had the same opportunity as David had? As we say and as we know, looks can kill, a word can kill, the inflection of the voice, the rolling of the eyes, the silence deceitfully placed, the passive-aggressive shaming can virtually kill. The temptation to hurt is strongest when love is expected and even owed.
But these occasions to kill the other are occasions, even more, to kill ourselves by refusing to yield to the temptation to kill. They are occasions to die to ourselves and to embrace that death as an opening to the renewal of love. Refusing, too, to take trophies.
Sometimes we’re able to avoid those who hurt us, but there’s one person I cannot avoid. The worst enemy I have is the one who can turn me away from God, from the love of God – the one I see in the mirror, the one who keeps me from living the life God calls me to. In my sinfulness, I even make myself the enemy of God. And yet, I take care of myself, I feed myself, I look after myself. Like Jesus on the cross, I also make excuses for myself. So, it’s not really impossible for me to love my enemy. I just have to do to others what I do to myself; do to others as God does for me; and do to others as I would have others do to me.
Jesus exhorts us to treat others not as they deserve, but as God wishes them to be treated: with loving kindness and mercy. God is good to all, the unjust as well as the just, saints and sinners alike. God is after our highest good and teaches us to seek the greatest good of others, including those who hate and are not good to us. The challenge is to love as God loves us, not as others treat us. Love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy that God has for us. To love as God loves is to focus more on others. And we can only do this if we have a strong inner sense of security and self-acceptance, and are not too worried about what people say about us or do to us.
As we heard early this morning, Pope Francis reminds us in his homily that “the love of Jesus knows no boundaries or barriers… today Jesus, with his limitless love, raises the bar of our humanity. In the end, we can ask ourselves: ‘Will we be able to make it?’ If the goal were impossible, the Lord would not have asked us to strive for it. By our own effort, it is difficult to achieve; it is a grace and it needs to be implored. Ask God for the strength to love.” Love of enemies is one of those things about which St Bernard says, “What nature cannot do, grace can.”
All religions have a golden maxim: “Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.” However, Jesus is the only one to formulate it positively: “Do to others as you would have others do to you” (Lk 6:31). St. John Chrysostom comments on this saying, “There is even more, for Jesus did not only say, ‘wish good to others’ but ‘do good to others.’ This is why the golden maxim proposed by Jesus cannot just remain as wishful thinking, but must be translated into deeds.”
As an unknown author heeds the Lord’s exhortation he envisions perfect love to be-
slow to suspect, quick to trust;
slow to condemn, quick to justify;
slow to offend, quick to defend;
slow to expose, quick to shield;
slow to reprimand, quick to forbear;
slow to demand, quick to give;
slow to provoke, quick to conciliate;
slow to hinder, quick to help;
slow to resent, quick to forgive.
Today, as Pope Francis reminds, “Let us choose love. Let us not yield to the thinking of this world. Let us accept the challenge of Jesus, the challenge of charity. Then we will be true Christians and our world will be more human.”