Love your enemies?

            I love my mom. I love my wife Joy. I love my kids. I love peanut butter. I love hot buttered popcorn. I love black licorice, rollos, and watermelon, but not at the same time. I love Memphis State basketball. I love a cool breeze on a hot day. I love a good book, a 51 Studebaker, and a wolf named Taz. I love the idea of a brand new Harley. I don’t particularly care for the idea of having to pay for one.

            Are we sensing a trend here. I want to talk about love. as you have been reading this, you see that I use love in a lot of ways for a lot of things, but all that really does is rob the word of it’s true significance. And it is significant. Love is probably the one thing that Jesus talked about, taught about, and lived out in His brief ministry more than anything else. In my mind, it was and is the centerpiece of this Jesus following life.

            I am not talking about a feeling, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance. I am talking about a conscious choice, an intentional decision and my actions in relationship with someone else. Loving Ma, Joy, my kids … that all seems to come naturally. I don’t really have to think about it.  But Jesus asks me to go much further than that.

            Jesus’ teaches us to love God with everything we have and everything we are, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Tall order! But He didn’t stop there. Jesus was as revolutionary about love as He was about everything else. Listen to this from Luke’s Gospel.

             “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.           

            If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.        

            Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:27-36 NLT)

Love my enemies?  You got to be kidding me.

            Was he talking about terrorists? People who fly airplanes into tall buildings? Communists? Nazi skinheads? Any other group of people who are not like me? I believe so, yes. Jesus was talking about all of them whoever they are at a particular time and place. But I don’t believe He was talking about them as a group. Grouping people and categorizing them is a human conception and has a way of separating us and dehumanizing those people who are not like me. Jesus is all about individual people. Each and every individual. One person at a time. It is easy to fear and even hate a group. It is much harder when one drops the category and relates to a person.

            Who then individually are my enemies? Who is Jesus telling me to love?

            Maybe it is the lady who lives next door. She dropped a dime on our outdoor, free spirited cat Milo. She had him arrested, and we had to go down and post a bond to get him back. She is suspected in engineering his disappearance a few months later. Milo disappeared without a trace. I know it was her. No I don’t. I believe it was her based on my judgment of her as the kind of person who would do such a thing. Could she be one of my enemies that Jesus was talking about?

            Maybe it is a guy I work with. I am a senior systems analyst and do mainframe applications development for a global information technology consulting firm. If that sounds important, it is .. but not that important really. I write computer code for an elevator company. This guy I am talking about isn’t very proficient at programming. He doesn’t have a grasp on much of the many things required to do our job well. I have been asked by our bosses to take him under my wing and teach him things that I don’t believe he can learn. It takes a lot of my time and effort, and he always calls when I am busy trying to do my job. It is an inconvenience for me, and wastes time I could better spend on other things. I’m not judging … well maybe just a little. Was Jesus referring to him?

            Maybe it’s that guy who drives one of those little Thunderbirds who I see three out of the four days I have to drive to work. I usually see him in heavy traffic when he cuts in front of me with no room to spare. The dummy obviously doesn’t know who I used to be and after I salute him with a single digit and call his mama names, I have to wrestle with plots and plans to one day just plow into his rear end and to heck with the consequences. I really hate being in traffic with someone who drives like me. I mean drives like he does. There is just something wrong with him. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.

            Maybe it’s that guy I worked with for over five years trying to help him find a way out of his active alcoholism and Crack addiction. He just never got it. Sometimes he seemed to be getting better, but he always went back to what he loved more than anything. He is in prison right now, but will be released soon. In his mind, his current dilemma is my fault. He has a deep need to blame someone else. He is the most violent man I personally know, and has verbally threatened me on several occasions. I truly believe he is a sociopath, and admit I am afraid of his violent nature. He has already taken a woman’s life in a crack induced insanity. And I know he will never change. It couldn’t be him that Jesus was talking about … could it?

            Love is a conscious choice, an intentional decision, and an action verb.

            If not these then who else could Jesus mean? These are real time individuals on my personal mission field who have hurt me, who hate me, who take from me, and at times, I am sure, curse me. So it has to be them and too many more to mention. But how can I love them?

            Love is a conscious choice, an intentional decision, and an action verb.

            For me, the love of enemies as Jesus taught is only possible with help from Jesus. It is a gift from, and evidence of Jesus living in me and through me into the world. But Jesus can’t do that without my help.

            Before I can love anyone as Jesus does, I have to drop my judgments about them. Did you notice in each of these examples the train of judgment running through the story? That bias makes true love of these impossible for me, so it has to go. To suspend judgment is a conscious choice I must make every time in each situation in which I want to respond with love to someone who is my enemy. I have to choose to respond instead of reacting without thought.

            I then have to make an intentional decision of what a loving response looks like. Once again this is situational, and unique to each person in each situation. Take my neighbor lady, the cat-snatcher. I don’t know she had anything to do with Milo’s disappearance. That is the judgment that I need to suspend. Next, each time she and I interact I need to decide to be intentionally respectful and kind. In two words be nice.

            The T-bird driver is difficult, but if loving like Jesus asks me to was easy, I would do it all the time. Most times … a little more than half, I am able to think before saluting. I know he irritates me so much because he reminds me of me. A part of me I want to deny, or hide, or repress. And instead of calling names and plotting morning crashes, I pray for him, smile, and wave. If I am able to see him coming, I can open up a space for him, giving him what he thinks he needs to get where he is going.

            With the man at work, I have decided to give my best effort to help him learn the nuances of programming effectively and efficiently. It is a commitment of time and energy for me. I do my best to encourage him as he makes progress or is obviously trying. And I do not talk about him disparagingly to anyone. These are intentional loving actions in this situation.

            But then there’s Jones. You remember that guy in prison who has it out for me. With Jesus’ help I’m pretty sure I can suspend judgment, I can probably even make an intentional decision to respond to him with love. But I don’t know that yet. My fear of him and what he might do may very well override my choices and decisions when faced with the reality of his release. I believe that loving him is what Jesus wants me to do. I believe Jesus will help me to do just that. But until faced with it up close and personal, I don’t know if I will be able to do my part. I can only hope and pray that Jesus will show me a way to respond to him in love that doesn’t put my family or myself in harm’s way.

            Love is a conscious choice, an intentional decision, and an action verb.

Jesus … God … became a human being. He became human and experienced our human brokenness. He taught a revolutionary kind of love because He knew that love is the most powerful force in the universe, the generating power behind all of creation, and the only thing that can heal our brokenness.

            For one who has never experienced love without condition, it can have great impact. This is the gift we give each time we respond to someone with love. I have witnessed grown men hardened by life be reduced to tears by unconditional love. I have seen love open men’s hearts and minds to the possibility that God is real and can be personal for them. I have also seen men turn away in disbelief because it is so far out of the range of their experience that they cannot make themselves believe it is real. And I have seen men view it as a weakness to be taken advantage of. And thst’s just the way it is.

            My own experience of being loved in this way had a great impact on me. I don’t know if you picked up on it, but each of the examples I gave of people I believe Jesus is asking me to love, have things about them that remind me of me. And out of all them, that guy in prison is the one who is most like me. The time and energy I put into trying to help him was the result of my recognition of our kinship, and a way of trying to give a little back to the ones who helped me.

            I too spent years with a group of people who wanted more than anything to help me recover from my alcoholism and drug addictions. For seven years I responded to them much like this man has responded to me. Blaming, hating, hurting. They didn’t run me off. They didn’t push me away. They understood my pain and told me time and time again to keep coming back until I could find a relationship with God sufficient to overcome my addictions. They kept loving me when I was the unlovely one, the unlovable one. They helped open my heart and mind to the possibility that God could and did love even me. They helped set me on the path that twenty years later has led me into seminary, prison ministry, and possible ordination. Yes the experience of being truly loved had an impact on me.

            But my experience of loving others, the ones who I find unlovely or unlovable, doing my best to understand that we all are broken and wounded people … that experience has been transformational. It unleashed the creative force of the universe transforming my heart, mind, and spirit, and has helped … no …is helping me to become the man God created me to be.

            So who are your enemies? Who is Jesus calling you to love? Don’t cheat yourself by saying everyone. Be specific. Get personal. Take a risk. And just maybe … be transformed.

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