This past Sunday’s Scripture text was about loving your enemies, about turning your cheek and to not retaliate with vengeance, from Matthew 5.
And once again Jesus goes there: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5: 44-45a)
I love Jesus. He’s so bold. (And I often wonder what some of our government officials would say if Jesus confronted them with the Gospel message.)
Anywho…Since what our children do in Sunday School is the same text that’s the main Scripture reading, I talked to the children about loving your enemies during the children’s moment, a sort of precursor intro to what they would do upstairs.
I cut a heart out of some red paper, held it up and asked the children what they think of when they see a heart: “Love,” they said. I asked who do they love: “Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, teachers, your pastors, friends, etc…” Then I asked if they have ever dealt with a bully or someone who isn’t so nice. “Yes,” they said. And I asked if they loved that person. I got a lot of darting of eyes, no one really wanting to fess up.
I went on to explain that God and Jesus ask us to love everyone, which can be hard. It’s easy to love our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, people at church. But the person who isn’t nice to us or others, that can be a bit harder to like, let alone love. It’s hard and sometimes really difficult to do but that’s what Jesus’ teaches us to do – Love our enemies, love those people who wrong us, who aren’t so nice, who have hurt us. It might not happen overnight or right away but the point is to try and love our enemies as we love others too.
And then I sent them away to Sunday School.
And worship continued.
And then worship was over.
As I stood in the back, ready to greet people, a gentlemen came over and proceeded to tell me this:
“I’m not angry or upset or anything but I don’t agree with what you said to the children this morning. I’m a science and math guy and what you told them hasn’t worked for 5,000 years and I don’t think it will work.”
Me: Ok (smiling nicely and nodding my head)
“If you have a different answer, I’d be happy to hear it but I just don’t believe in that because it hasn’t worked for 5,000 years. Again, not upset or angry or anything, I just don’t agree because it hasn’t worked.”
Me: Ok, thank you for sharing.
My head: Grrr…And what the fork?
I went about the rest of my Sunday as normal and thought about his remarks. It hasn’t bugged me, ok, perhaps it has but not to the point of annoyance or anything.
After much thought, this is what I’ve come up with:
First, did you listen to the sermon? I wasn’t the only one preaching about loving your enemy that morning. In fact, my colleague did a nice job at explaining this.
Second, what part of “love your neighbor” don’t you understand? It’s Jesus’ main message. And neighbor could mean your enemy too. Jesus doesn’t define “neighbor.” If you heard my sermon from last week you’d know that Jesus calls us into relationship with everyone, which means this whole loving others thing isn’t limited to only neighbors and enemies. It’s the whole human planet.
Third, ok, so maybe loving your enemy hasn’t worked. But shouldn’t we Christians at least try? Shouldn’t we be the ones to spread God’s message of love and peace to the best of our abilities? And yes, you’re right, it’s possible that the world Jesus was envisioning will never be a reality but I’d much rather fight for that and live a life in which I love everyone than not trying. Plus, I’d rather plant a seed of hope in our chaotic, messy, violent world.
Fourthly, well obviously it upset you because you’ve told me twice that it hasn’t upset you. Plus, you wouldn’t be standing here telling me this if it didn’t upset you.
Fifthly, ok, so…how do you interpret the Gospel message? How does math and science coincide with your faith? Because I think they fit nicely together.
Sixthly, what part of “love your neighbor as yourself” do you not understand?
As I thought about this over the last few days, I kept thinking of the Facebook meme that was going around awhile back. The picture has Jesus teaching his disciples and he says, “Love your enemies.” A disciple asks, “But what if they are Muslim.” Jesus: “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.” No idea who came up with that but so good! You can substitute Muslim for person to betrayed or person who lied or bullies or etc… In the end Jesus is going to still say, “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.”
At this point, I’m not going to seek this person out to talk to him about this. They made their opinion known and I’m leaving it at that. Maybe one day he and I will talk.
But it pains me to hear someone say this, especially in our world today. I mean, we’re Christians, called to live the life Christ laid out for us as best as we are able. We’re also human, which means we’re messy and not perfect. So loving our neighbors/enemies can be tricky at times. I find it hard to like someone who bullies people and yet I’m called to love them. There have been people in my own life who have harmed me in some way. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. However, I love them to the best of my ability because that’s what God says I should do, that’s what my faith teaches me. It may be an on-the-surface sort of love, you know, fake smiles and such but I’m trying, right?
God and Jesus know that being human is tough. And that doing some of the things Jesus teaches us can be downright difficult and painful. However, I think that if all we’re able to do is try, Jesus would be happy. And isn’t that faith? To try and understand, to try and live out the Gospel message to the best of our abilities?
Perhaps loving our neighbor/enemy is more about planting a seed of love. Perhaps if we try to show others God’s love, they’ll know God’s love. And perhaps that will lead to something greater.
Perhaps not but…
Shouldn’t we at least try?