Making enemies friends.
I have had enemies. I can remember a boy in high school who thought it was his job to fight me, and I didn’t want to fight. One night at a dance at the high school, he cold-cocked me, when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t fight back. I walked away. Maybe in part because I was scared, although I think I actually would have beaten him, but I think mostly because I didn’t want to enter the cycle of fighting. If I had beaten him there would have been an older brother or a friend of someone else standing in line to try and beat the boy who beat that boy.
But it was pretty tense for a while. You could feel pretty negative energy. He tried to intimidate. He did intimidate.
I have had enemies. People who wanted me gone as minister. People who have gossiped about me. People who lied about me. People who spread rumors about Someone put a note under my door saying that they’d wished I had moved four or five years ago. Another made a charge against me at presbytery. Some of them didn’t like me. Some of them found fault with me. Some of them didn’t like my inclusive theology. Some of them hated me.
Here’s the thing. It is hard not to get into the cycle of hate, or wishing bad things on them. It is hard to love those who want rid of you or hate you. It is very easy, and I have done it, become the enemy, become part of the cycle, part of the process of pointing the finger and sending the negative energy back at the ones who give you the negative energy.
But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
I don’t know if there are any more demanding words in the gospel. II don’t know if there are any more demanding and challenging words that Jesus speaks.
And in some way, I personally think that in some ways this is the heart, or the centre of the gospel.
Interestingly enough this Lukan text appears on the seventh Sunday of Epiphany year C. in the lectionary. The Matthean text where Jesus says “love your enemies” is the seventh Sunday in Epiphany year A. The seventh Sunday in Epiphany only appears about every three years in the lectionary and then only two of those three years do we get a text about loving enemies.
I wonder why, when I think this is one of the most important things that Jesus says.
For me, this is tied to the cross. It is on the cross that we understand that Jesus died to make enemies, friends. It is on the cross we understand that Jesus loves everyone even enemies. It is on the cross where universal forgiveness is proclaimed. It is on the cross where we understand ourselves to have been enemies to God’s way of love, inclusion, forgiveness and community. It is on the cross that we have understood our sin, as a sin of not really loving brother, sister, neighbour, stranger, poor, outcast, leper, criminal and enemy.
Loving enemies is one of the most lucent explanations of the cross…
…and one of the hardest sayings for us to understand, and one of the hardest sayings for us to follow…
But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
I find it a little weird when the gospel lesson starts with “But.”
But means that it is following something. Last week we talked about Jesus giving honour and status to the beggars and the dishonorable, those whom society considered worthless, and therefore woe to those who don’t give the poor status.
And then Jesus continues: But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
To me that means Jesus is taking it to the next level.
It is one thing to give honour and status to the dishonorable, but there is an even more and deeper level to grace: and that is to love enemies.
Luke uses the Greek word echthros for enemy. I will not linger on it except to say it really means enemy like soldiers with weapons. This isn’t about your rival at the book club or business opponent. Not that there is not an application for them, but the sense of the word is someone who will really harm you. Someone really dangerous.
Bless the ones who curse you and pray about the ones who abuse you.
I want to briefly talk about four things here. The first is love, the second is abuse, the third is forgiveness and the fourth is power.
What is love. One of the best definitions of love I found many years ago in Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled.
By the way, the road most travelled is the road of avoiding pain and problems. The road less travelled is the road of dealing with pain and problems head on.
In that book Scott Peck defined love as this:
Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
Love is to choose to act extend another’s spiritual growth.
Love is not a feeling it is a choice. A choice to act in another’s best interest.
Therefore, to love an enemy would be to act in their best interest.
To love a child is to act in their best interest. Sometimes as a parent, it is loving to say “no,” or or it is loving to set boundaries, or even to punish or discipline as the case may be.
Sometimes it is loving to turn a criminal in, to practice tough love on an addict, to call up the police if a partner abuses you, to do an intervention, or some other action which is not welcomed by the party to whom you are acting in their best interest.
Acting in someone’s best interest is not about romance, or feeling, or even liking.
It is to choose to act in their best interest.
Abuse. Please do not interpret this text to mean that anyone should suffer abuse and just turn the cheek and take it. One should report abusers to the police. I do not recommend living with someone who abuses you.
The abuser needs help. And the abused need to be free from abuse. Loving an abuser means getting them the help that person needs, not allowing them to continue to abuse.
You can pray for that person, but allowing them to abuse is not helpful to you or that person. It is not loving.
Power. These words of Jesus were spoken to people who often believed that they didn’t have any power. The powerful Roman soldiers could compel Jews to give clothes, carry their packs etc. Sometimes the soldiers would abuse women or others violently. Sometimes it seemed there was not a whole lot one could do.
Jesus with these words is actually giving people power. This was not passive love. This is active love. He said in the face of those with physical force, you actually have power.
You have the power to choose love. You have the power to not let their abuse change you from loving.
The natural thing to do is to hate, to fight back, to want vengeance.
But you have the power when someone hits you to turn a cheek and show that you have as much power as they.
You have the power to be graceful to people who have no grace and don’t deserve grace.
That is divine power.
And finally, forgiveness. Forgiveness is not denial. It is not saying that what the other did is trivial, and it is not saying that things don’t have to change.
Forgiveness is not that whatever happened didn’t hurt, or didn’t cause pain.
Forgiveness is breaking a cycle of becoming the enemy’s enemy, or returning hurt for hurt, or become stuck in the cycle of retribution.
I think it was Anne Lamott in her book Travelling Mercies who said that if we do not forgive it is like us taking rat poison and waiting for rat to die.
Unforgiveness can rot us on the inside and do terrible things to a soul that was made for love.
However, we do not just forgive so that we can heal and be better, we also forgive, because it is one of the ways to truly show love to someone, who is so screwed up and hurting inside, that they think they need to hurt or be violent.
Forgiveness not only changes us and heals us and make us more like Christ.
Forgiveness changes lives and brings Christ to those who are the enemies.
But as we are in Black History month, one thing we do have to acknowledge as the church is our history of being the oppressor. Our own history of being the enemy of the poor, the different, aboriginal peoples, LGBTQI people, black people and other people of colour.
John Rawls, the esteemed political philosopher in his book Political Liberalism assumes that people have to live together despite differences and incompatible worldviews. He talks about reasonableness, and it is to our mutual benefit to accommodate differences and live in peace.
But our human history is replete with examples of us not living together.
How do we live with each other, when we oppress each other and at times are enemies of each other?
Back in the sixties two leading proponents from the Black community had different ideas of what it meant to live with the enemy.
Malcolm X, who was an articulate spokesperson, suggested that the way Blacks live with their oppressors was separation… that Black people form their own nation with their own military and police…and keep white people out.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed in integration.
Neither one was motivated by the liberal belief that it was mutual advantageous to live together.
King’s belief in integration was based on it being God’s redemptive act for the sin of racism. We wouldn’t live together because it is mutual advantageous, but because the power of God would allow blacks to forgive whites and create a family of God. King contended that the love of God displayed in Christ on the cross was a sacrifice to “destroy the dividing walls of hostility” as Paul wrote in Ephesians. (Eph. 2.14)
I think there is another philosopher who makes a compelling argument about how we live together. I think he was one of the greatest thinkers of the last century. His name is René Girard and he was born in France, was an atheist for a while; and taught philosophy and literature.
Girard’s view of humanity was not positive. He developed Mimetic Theory, which is the idea that we get our desires for imitating what others desire. It is the basis for most of our consumer economy. But here is the thing. When you desire something and someone else desires it and everybody starts desiring it, and there is only so much of it, desires compete and there is conflict.
And Girard noted that the way cultures, peoples, communities or societies handle this is by finding a scapegoat, and usually by doing violence to the scapegoat.
Often the religious community legitimizes this violence and scapegoating.
Hence why there was so much human and animal sacrifice in ancient times.
The violence to the scapegoat becomes cathartic for a while until tensions build up and a new scapegoat needs to be found.
In other words what holds cultures and communities together is finding, naming, opposing and even hurting an enemy.
But when Girard looked at the bible, he saw the opposite happening. To Girard, the bible deconstructed the false myth of scapegoating. Thus, his faith was born.
Two stories stand out. The Joseph story. Joseph is an innocent man, scapegoated by his brothers and by Potiphar’s wife, but the innocent man is vindicated by God and instead of violence and revenge, forgives his enemies. Order is restored not by scapegoating and violence, but by love and forgiveness.
Likewise, Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, and the cross exposes this whole myth of violence and scapegoating as the way to live together, and presents a new way of living together… in love, forgiveness and non-violence.
We actually have someone to imitate that doesn’t lead to conflict and competition. It is Jesus who loves and forgives whom we can imitate and there doesn’t have to be conflict.
Maybe that is why we need communion, or need to metaphorically consume Christ, or more literally incorporate Christ, so that we imitate the one who made enemies, friends, and exposed the lie that violence and scapegoating is the way to live together.
In 1972 South Vietnamese forces dropped napalm on what they thought was North Vietnamese forces in Tran Bang, but actually was civilians and South Vietnamese troops. Four people were killed including a couple of children and one 9-year-old girl received third degree burns. The picture of her running naked was on the frontpage of the New York Times the next day and earned a Pulitzer Prize.
The girl’s name is Phan Thi Kim Phúc who was taken to hospital. The burns were so severe that it was not expected that she would survive, but she did. She had to stay 14 months in hospital and had 17 surgical procedures; but it wasn’t till 10 years later and a surgery in West Germany that she was able to move properly again.
She ended up getting married and on her honeymoon trip to Russia in 1992, when the plane stopped in Gander, Newfoundland, she and her husband got off the plane and asked for asylum and eventually became Canadian citizens.
She founded the first Kim Phuc Foundation with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.
She has a spoken essay on National Public Radio called “The long road to forgiveness.” She was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
When she about 19 years old and contemplating suicide she found a New Testament and became a Christian. She wrote that her conversion to Christianity helped heal the psychological trauma of being known to the world as “Napalm girl.”
In her own words. "My faith in Jesus Christ is what has enabled me to forgive those who had wronged me," she wrote, "no matter how severe those wrongs were."
We might have or had enemies that hated us, but if you are like me there are times when you made enemies, because of your actions or hurtful words, or because of your prejudice or ignorance, or even by thinking you are right and the other is wrong.
I also think there are times when we have all been enemies of truth, love, justice, forgiveness, peace and grace, and therefore enemies of God.
We were enemies of God, but God made us friends through the death of Jesus.
May we do the hard task of loving enemies and with the power of Jesus help make enemies, friends. Amen