“Love your Enemies”

​​​​​​Jesus hardly takes a breath after proclaiming the blessings and woes that we dealt with last week. He moves straight into a series of commands for those who are still listening:

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​​​Luke 6:27-38 and Genesis 45:3-11, 15 February 20, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright Jesus hardly takes a breath after proclaiming the blessings and woes that we dealt with last week. He moves straight into a series of commands for those who are still listening: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hurt you! Bless those who curse you! Pray for those who abuse you! Turn the other cheek! Give the shirt off your back! Give to everyone who begs from you! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! I suspect many stopped listening after the first one. Who can love their enemies? Especially when it is not a theoretical discussion but a real person who comes to mind. For Jesus’ audience their enemies wore Roman armor and carried swords and spears. They were the masters who worked them to exhaustion and slapped them when they failed. They were the creditors who threatened to throw them out of their homes or leave them without bread to eat. They were the people who abused them or stole from them because they were powerless. They were the people who insulted them and treated them like dirt. They were not theoretical or distant. No, these enemies had human faces. And they confronted them daily. You know the sort of enemies I’m talking about here. The bully who roughed you up on the playground. The relative who took advantage of your trust. The friend who stabbed you in the back. The boss who fired you at the worst possible time. The broker who stole from your account. The grown child who abused your generosity. I could go on, but I don’t have to. You have your own accounts. Picture that person. Take a moment. Remember the pain, the humiliation, the anger.

 

It would be understandable if you’d ever entertained thoughts of revenge. Hollywood has made a living telling us stories of revenge: lighthearted films like The Sting or 9 to 5; darker ones like Mad Max or Django Unchained; or history-based ones like Braveheart or Gladiator. But Jesus says his followers are supposed to love their enemies! Can you think of any movies like that? The one that comes to mind for me is Unbroken – the story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII bombardier who was shot down and served as a prisoner of war. He was tortured by Japanese soldiers. After his release he struggled to overcome his ordeal, battling PTSD and alcoholism. But the film ends with a series of historical notes, including … “Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness.” He even went back to Japan to make peace with his captors. That is exactly what Jesus is preaching. That is forgiving your enemies.

 

Would you like to get there? Would you like to forgive? Consider Joseph’s story: Betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. Falsely accused and imprisoned. But then, by the grace of God, he was given another chance. He rose to power and finds himself with the means and opportunity to get revenge. Today’s scripture makes it sound like he moved straight to forgiveness. He didn’t. It gives the impression that it was easy. It wasn’t. Joseph is just as human as the rest of us, so he engages in some petty revenge giving his brothers a taste of prison, a dose of fear, and a season of anxiety before he embraces them. Eventually he repents and takes a different path. Why? Maybe revenge doesn’t taste as sweet as he expected. Maybe he has learned something. W what he says is revealing: First, he is honest about what they did to him: “You sold me here.” Second, he sees his life as part of a bigger story: “God sent me before you to preserve life.” So, forgiving your enemies is not a command to forget what they did to you or minimize it. It is an effort to free you from the prison of your anger with the key of forgiveness. It is not grudgingly swallowing the bitter pill that your pain is, somehow, part of God’s plan. It is an invitation to look for how God is using the pain as fertilizer to grow something good.

 

When Laura Hillenbrand wrote Zamperini’s biography, she knew that she had more than a revenge story; she had something better, something much more rare: she had a story of forgiveness! I think that’s why the folks that collected the stories of the Bible gave so much space to Joseph’s story. A revenge story would have entertained people around the campfire, but a story of forgiveness had the chance to set people, who have been hurt over and over, free! That’s what Jesus is trying to do. He is saying that forgiving our enemies is part of experiencing the Kingdom of God right here amidst the thorns and thistles of everyday life. He wants us to know that freedom. And he wants us to show that love … to our enemies and ourselves. Amen


[1] “Joseph Makes Himself Known to His Brothers” by Lars Justinen
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