Loving our enemies

by susan on November 15, 2015

love rainsFrom Mark’s gospel, the 12th chapter:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

In Pastrix, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of finally confronting one of her enemies. “Pirate Christian” was the host of an internet radio show and he was known for relentlessly attacking anyone whose “Christian” views differed even slightly from his own.  Nadia was one of those people. She was plunder for the pirate, and she had grown to feel terrorized by him.

So, when she arrived at a conference and was told he was also there, she made sure to avoid him. She would go about her business, giving her talk on forgiveness and loving our enemies.

After her talk, a line of people formed and last in line was a man in his mid-forties with a beer gut. She was caught off guard when he greeted here with “Hi Nadia, I’m Chris. The Pirate Christian.”

After uttering a few profanities in her mind, she greeted him back. He was there to say he thought that despite all their differences, they had some things in common. Within a few minutes, she left reluctantly to have a conversation with her enemy.

For thirty minutes, they talked. Instead of arguing, they talked about their common brokenness and need for confession, and at least twice, Pirate Christian cried. Nadia surprisingly found him to be hurting & tender & really smart. She wrote “God made my enemy my friend that day.”

Love is hard enough.
Loving our neighbors? Even harder.
Especially the ones who hate us, who slander us, who disregard us.

The world tells us to hate them,
to shame them,
to expose the error of their ways
& to define ourselves by what they’re not.

Just think about how much time and energy was spent this week criticizing & separating ourselves from the awful Christians who want a more “Christian” coffee cup.

We love to perpetuate our divides & to expose our neighbor’s flawed perspective.

God, though, invites us into a different way of relating to our neighbors – all of our neighbors.

Jesus and the scribe introduced in our scripture reading met under similar circumstances. It was not a conference per se, but it was the place where religious leaders debated the laws – all 613 of them. A scribe, impressed by Jesus’ answers wants to hear more from him. So, he questions Jesus about the greatest of all of the commandments.

Jesus responds by quoting a slightly modified version of the Shema Yisrael found in Deut. 6:4-9 (trans. “Hear, oh Israel”), the Jewish prayer read morning and evening. It calls for complete devotion to God.

Jesus adds “with our minds”, emphasizing just how all-encompassing, how all-consuming this love of God must be. We are to love God with our whole beings. We are to love God with our whole lives.

And, then he adds a second most important command that is intricately linked to the first: Love your neighbor as yourself.

We love God by loving God’s creation – all of it – including ourselves.

We really struggle with the idea of loving ourselves, don’t we? We either feel or have been made to feel unworthy of love or we have an over-inflated idea of what self-love looks like. We either think we are a piece of dirt or that we are the best thing to walk the face of the planet!

Jesus was talking about agape love of neighbor and self. He was talking about the kind of love that God has for us. It was a love made known in the overarching story of scripture – the story of God’s relentless determination to restore creation. It was a love revealed in the intent of the laws themselves – laws designed to protect and care for creation.

Loving ourselves as God loves us is natural and good and yet, it is one of the most difficult things we can do.

Pause for a minute and imagine this:
How different would our world be if we all loved ourselves?
If we believed that we were worthy of love and belonging?
If we knew that God’s desire was not to shame us, but rather to renew us?

According to Jesus, loving our ourselves is connected to loving our neighbor.
And, who are our neighbors? It’s a question asked in the other gospels.

Certainly, our families: our mothers, fathers, sons & daughters.
Certainly our physical neighbors: the ones who live next door.

But what about our annoying neighbors?
Our pretend-you-have-it-all-together neighbors?
Our mean neighbors?
Our violent neighbors?
Our hate-filled neighbors?

How do we love bombers and terrorists?
What does that kind of love look like?

If the way we love God is by loving God’s creation – all of it, including our neighbors and our neighbors include our enemies – then, what does that love look like?

A few weeks ago I listened to a TED talk given by a Muslim woman from Afghanistan. Her name is Sakena Yacoobi and her talk was entitled: How I stopped the Taliban from shutting down my school. Her work is educating girls who have been denied an education in Afghanistan. It is a work rooted in love & it is extremely dangerous.

She tells about how on at least a couple of occasions when she was confronted by Taliban extremists because of this work. The second time she was confronted she was sure she was going to die.

She was traveling by car, stopped in the middle of the road and told by 19 young men holding rifles to get out of her car. Her driver offered to help them instead, but the men said they wanted her instead and they called her by name. She was terrified and trembling. By now, the other women in the car were yelling and screaming.

She got out and bracing herself on the side of the car, she asked, “What can I do for you?”

And they said, “We know who you are. We know where you are going. Every day you go up north here and there. You train women, you teach them and also you give them an opportunity to have a job. You build their skills. How about us?… from the time we’re born, we just hold the gun and kill. That’s all we know.”

The very people who were the source of the evil she was opposing were asking for help. They wanted an education. She had no idea what to do. They let her go and two days later, after much turmoil, she went looking for them. She found them on that same road.

She told them her rules, she gave them teachers and now they are not only learning English and learning to be teachers. Not only that, but they are also the guides that help her and the other teachers get through unknown mountain areas to reach more students.

We are told to hate those who hate.
We are told to kill those who kill.

God says to let love consume us.
God says to let love embolden us.
Let it occupy our hearts, souls, strength AND our minds.

The world does not need more hostility.
It needs more love.
Only love has the power to transform.

Love is God’s way and it must become our way.

How are we learning to love our neighbors?
Not just the ones who are easy to love, but the ones who cause us trouble?
The ones who may even be conspiring against us?
What would loving all of our neighbors look like and how could it change us & change our world?

When Jesus was done answering, the scribe commended Jesus’ response. Then Jesus gave him the blow: You are not far from the kingdom of God, implying that he was not there yet. Knowing what to do & doing it are two different things.

We are not there yet. We do not love God, ourselves or one another this way.
That is why we come together – to confess our deep need for God’s help.
And, to once again look to Jesus as the source & imitator & perfector of God’s love.

It was that love that refused retaliation and chose instead to die for Love’s sake.


Previous post:

Next post: