Sunday February 20 2022 “All You Need is Like” – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell – Luke 6:27-38, Gen 45:3-11,15
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies…”
I have often heard it pointed out that when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he never says that we have to like them – which is a very comforting thing for us to hear. We’re relieved that we can obey our Lord’s command by our actions, even though we are very aware that deep down we still harbor feelings of hurt and resentment, bitterness, maybe even hatred against the people who have hurt us, in our heart of hearts.
And, in many ways that all fits in very well with what Jesus tells us here. It’s true – he never orders us to feel friendly or affectionate towards our enemies. And that’s a good thing, because our feelings are, by and large, things beyond our control. We can choose what we do; we can’t choose what we feel. We can choose to pray for the good of the person who hurt us. But we can’t choose to stop feeling pain or anger or fear when we think of them. Jesus gives us practical, active ways here to love our enemy: by giving generously to them, by even offering more than they have taken from us, by lending to them with no strings attached, by praying for them, by asking God to bless them as he blesses us. And that is hard enough.
Except – except there is that one central principal that should shake us up just a little, that should make us all a little uncomfortable. Jesus tells us, “Do to others, as you would have them do to you.” Treat everyone, your enemies included, the same way you want them to treat you. It’s maybe the best-known teaching Jesus ever gave us. So just think for a moment: how do you want to be treated? And, specifically, how do you want to be treated by God, because of all relationships in our lives that is the most important of all.
We know that God does good things for us. In fact, he does good things for everybody. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust – and anyone in a farming community knows that means a blessing, not a curse, because rain means the crops will grow and the harvest will be good and people will have enough to eat. God provides faithfully for our daily needs. He gives generously. God forgives our sins – not seven times, and not even seventy times seven times, but every time, as many times as we have sins.
But, we should ask ourselves, are we satisfied with that? By which I mean, do we care how God feels about us? If God acts kindly and mercifully and generously toward you, does it make any difference how he feels toward you? And I would say, it makes all the difference in the world. I am thankful that God forgives my wrongs over and over. I am thankful for his abundant blessings every day. But what gives me real joy and real comfort is knowing that God loves me tenderly as his adopted child, that despite all my many flaws and failings he delights in me. Above everything else, that’s what matters to me, that is what I want from God more than anything else.
And that means, to me, that it should be our desire not only to love our enemies by what we do. It should be our desire, our longing, to grow in god-like-ness so that some day we won’t only act mercifully toward our enemy, but we’ll also feel compassion for them. It should be our deep longing that some day we won’t only give generously to our enemy, but we will honestly rejoice in their abundance from the bottom of our hearts.
And that is something that can only happen through a transformation of our hearts. We can make ourselves act correctly – or theoretically we can, anyway. But our hearts can only be transformed, by the ongoing life of the Spirit within us – basically, to put it simply, by spending time in God’s gracious company. We are being transformed day by day, through the love of God which is poured into our hearts. And some day, believe it or not, we will know the joy, not only of acting in love toward our enemy out of obedience to God, but of loving our enemy as we love our very selves, just as God loves us, tenderly, with genuine affection, as his precious children.
In the Old Testament reading today, Joseph has come face to face with his enemies. They’re his brothers, it’s true, but brothers from one of the most dysfunctional families in the whole Bible, the family of Jacob and his collection of wives and demi-wives and a whole tribe of children. These so-called brothers had sold Joseph, their own brother, to a band of traveling slave-traders out of pure hatred, because Dad played favorites, and because Joseph was a boastful twerp. Joseph had suffered greatly, not only as a slave but also locked up in an Egyptian prison for a long, long time, for a crime he didn’t commit. And now, when God had raised Joseph up to a position of power almost equal to that of the king, here came these brothers of his. God put their pathetic lives right into Joseph’s hands.
And their reconciliation is one of the most vivid and beautiful pictures in the whole Bible of what Jesus is talking about when he tells us to love our enemies. Joseph is in a position to even the score for all the evil his brothers have done to him. He has both the right and the opportunity to satisfy his vengeance. But he doesn’t.
First of all, through all that Joseph has experienced, both good and bad, he has grown in both wisdom and grace. He’s begun to be able to see God’s hand in his life, rather than just the hands of his brothers. He has suffered terribly, but now he’s begun to see God’s long game. He has realized the incredible truth that God is using him, Joseph, the bratty kid brother, to save the lives of thousands and thousands of people – and now, how he is even using him to save the lives of his own family. Joseph has come to a place where he can see how much bigger God’s plan is than the shabby, cruel little scheme of his brothers.
And it’s because God has given him this new perspective, that Joseph finds it in himself to offer his brothers forgiveness, to do good to them even though they did him harm, to bless them even though they had cursed him, to show them mercy even though they had treated him mercilessly, to withhold the judgment they deserved. Joseph has the power now to hurt his brothers even more than they had hurt him. Instead, he treats his brothers as he would have wanted them to treat him. He demands no restitution. He’s not out for payback.
But there’s more than that happening here. These men, standing before him powerless, terrified, ashamed of themselves, probably reeling in shock – they are his brothers. And Joseph realizes that he loves them – maybe more than he has ever loved them. He acts in all the right outward ways towards them, but he does more. He forgives them in his heart as well. He calls them to come close to him. He kisses them. He weeps over them. And then they talk together, and wouldn’t you love to know what kind of a conversation that must have been? But the bottom line is, that their broken relationship is being healed, and that healing, that true reconciliation, is the fullness of what it means to love our enemies.
In this broken world, we all have relationships that we’ll never be able to restore fully, on this side of Christ’s return. There are relationships that aren’t safe for us to try to restore. Offering the other cheek should never mean subjecting ourselves willingly to be abused; it never means being someone’s doormat, or someone’s punching bag. And sometimes there are people who aren’t willing to be reconciled. Other times our hurt is so deep, that the healing of our wounds might be the work of many years, maybe even our whole earthly lives. But Jesus has given us tools that we can use for practicing forgiveness now, step by step. We can pray for those who have done harm to us. We can bless them when we are tempted to curse. Maybe most importantly, we can leave their judgment in the hands of God.
God might give you the blessing of a reconciliation in your lifetime, or he might not. But in God’s final plan, God’s end game, when the whole Creation is healed and set right, then all relationships will be restored at long last. Then we will greet one another with a holy kiss. Then we will weep together for joy. Then all our enmity will be healed forever. That’s the vision, that’s the ideal, we should keep in our hearts at all times, even with the most broken and hopeless of our relationships. Because that’s the kind of love God offers to all of us now – not just the outward acts of canceling our debt or commuting our sentence, but love from the heart, a Father’s love, freely and generously given, even to us, who at one time counted ourselves as God’s enemies, but now have been called to be his beloved children. +
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