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The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Love Your Enemies 

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And here Jesus takes that word (agapao) and he says, “I want you to love your enemies.’ Now the immediate reaction that people probably had back then and which, I know people have today was, “How can I love someone who has hurt me? What does that mean? What does it look like to love?” This is particularly difficult for us as modern people because in modern English, the word “love” has become so wrapped up with our emotions; our passions, our feelings toward another person. So when we say we love someone, what we mean is that we have “good feelings” towards someone. It isn’t just that we want good things for that person, but that person makes us happy. That person makes us feel good about ourselves. We delight in their presence. We delight in their company. So there tends to be an emphasis on feeling when we talk about love — to say nothing of the fact that love is frequently associated with romantic love. If I say, “I’m in love with someone”, it means a romantic love. Well, how can you have romantic love for your enemies? It’s ridiculous. Jesus isn’t using the word love in the way that we would use it with the primary emphasis on a connotation of feelings. And you can see that by what he says. So concretely, how does he want us to love? What are the actions that would express love? That’s where his emphasis falls. So if you look, he unpacks what loving your enemies looks like with very specific instructions.

First, “loving my enemies” entails good actions. So if I love an enemy, I will do good to someone who hates me. So even though they hate me, I don’t return “eye for eye” or “tooth for tooth” (I don’t return evil with evil), but they give me evil and I return it with a good action. So the first way we show love for our enemies is to do good to them. It doesn’t say anything about feelings. The emphasis is on actions here.

A second thing, if someone curses us, we are to bless them. A blessing there is not just to do good towards somebody, but to speak good to somebody. So you bless with your mouth, you act (obviously) with your actions through all kinds of different ways. If someone curses me, they speak evil against me. You’re verbalizing that they would wish harm upon you (that’s what a curse is). So to bless is to verbalize a desire for good upon the person. So if someone curses me, I bless them. That’s the second way to show them that I love them.

A third way (and this one’s really important), “pray for those who abuse you.” I think this one’s very crucial because, whereas the other two (the blessing and the good actions) seem to imply a certain amount of interaction (and one of the things people will often ask me is, “Dr. Pitre, how can I love this person whose hurt me? I don’t even want to be in their presence.” Or “it’s dangerous for me to be in their presence” or whatever it might be), I always like to stress, “even if you don’t come into contact with someone who’s an enemy, or who hates you, or hurts you, you can always, always pray for a person.” And what is the prayer? The prayer is for God to bless that person. You’re asking for good to be done to someone who wishes harm to you; that is “loving your enemies”, praying for those who persecute you – and it’s really, really counter-intuitive. It’s not going to come natural to you to say, “This person that I’m an enemy with, this person that I hate, I’m going to devote an hour of prayer to them. I’m going to say a rosary (I’m offering an entire rosary) for this person who betrayed me or stole my job, or whatever it might be (or hurt my family).” So prayer is an expression of love, because agape (in its deepest sense), agape, that kind of love is to “will the good of another”; to act in such a way as to bring good to another. It’s not primarily rooted in the emotions. It’s rooted in the will; it’s rooted in the choices that you make: to do good, to say good, and to pray for your enemies. Those are the three (kind of) concrete actions that Jesus gives here as he’s unpacking the verb for love. Now it doesn’t cite there: he also gives some parabolic expressions or examples of this that are really striking (literally striking). “If somebody strikes you on the cheek, you offer him the other also. If somebody steals your cloak, say ‘hey wait! Don’t leave, you forgot my coat’’’ (which would be the other garment as well). “Give to everyone who begs from you and of him who takes away your goods, don’t ask them back again.”

Now, every one of those, the image of non-resistance, the idea of giving alms to everyone (I mean, that’s crazy, right? What are they going to do with my money? They might use it to do something bad), the idea of lending to someone who you know isn’t going to pay you back; those all seem irrational at first glance, but what Jesus is saying to us is that “it’s not irrational (he wouldn’t have said it this way, but this is how I am articulating it), it’s super-rational.” It’s kind of like the blessings and the woes. It seems irrational, earlier in the sermon, for Jesus to say, “Blessed are you who mourn. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who are poor.” No, no, no. Those are the people who are cursed. Those are the people who are punished. Those are the people who are suffering. But no, there’s a paradox built into this. It’s unexpected; it’s surprising. It seems irrational, but that’s because it’s not operating according to the logic of this world. It’s the logic of the kingdom of heaven. It’s the logic of the Son of God, who comes into this world to be struck on the cheek in his Passion, and not to fight back. Who comes into this world, who is rich, but became poor for our sake, so that we might be saved. Who gives to everyone; who gives his life for everyone, even the ones he knows are going to reject him and not give him a return. Who will not accept the gift of salvation; he still gives it to them. It’s the logic of the kingdom; it’s the logic of the cross. That’s what Jesus is talking about here with “love your enemies”.

So we saw he was teaching us the mystery of the cross in The Beatitudes and the woes, and now he’s just teaching the same mystery in the command to love your enemies, because the ultimate act of love for one’s enemies is Calvary. “While we were yet enemies,” Paul says in Romans, “God loves us.” And that’s the case. And he shows it on Calvary.

So, I bring this up because I think in context there’s a lot more radical interpretation of the golden rule than we tend to give it. So notice, after he said all that, then he says, “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” Now what do we usually interpret the golden rule to mean? It’s kind of like “reverse tit-for-tat.” In other words, “I wouldn’t want you to do this to me so I’m not going to do it to you” or “I would like it if you did that to me so I will do it to you”, and that’s of course true, that’s part of it, but I think it goes way beyond that when you look at it in context, because ultimately, I want God to show me the kind of gratuitous love he shows me on the cross and that’s really what Jesus is calling us to here. This is a radical love, so the golden rule here is (in its context) really striking. “As you would have men do to you,” in other words, would you want them to pray for you even when you hurt them? Would you want them to do good to you even if you do evil to them? Would you want them to bless you even if you curse them? If you’ve ever fallen into any one of those sins, if you struggle with anger for example, or resentment, then you want people to love you even when you act like an enemy to them. I think that’s the context Jesus is giving us here. It’s a radical love that he’s calling for in the golden rule. It is counter-intuitive. It is not irrational; it’s super-rational, because it’s supernatural...

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