What? Love our enemies? How is this possible?

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Did Jesus really mean it when he said, “Love your enemies?” Do we have enemies? Who are they? What does loving them mean?

Here is what Jesus said according to the Gospel of Saint Luke: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

How can this seemingly impossible command ever be accomplished?

We can assume Jesus knew how hard this would be.

But look at the central symbol of our faith: a man dying on the cross for his enemies while praying for them and loving them.

Jesus meant what he said.

Some might think that such a lofty view of love doesn’t apply to them because they have no enemies. We all have enemies. I was raised with three sisters and one bathroom. We were enemies every morning.

A priest once asked the congregation if they had many enemies. Quite a few raised their hands. When asked if they had only a few enemies, few hands were raised. When asked if they had no enemies, only one old man raised his hand. Delighted, the priest invited the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the priest said. “How old are you? “I’m 98, and I have no enemies.”

“What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us how it is that you have no enemies.”

“All the knuckleheads have died!”

In reality we will all have enemies.

Jesus said if they call the master of the house the devil how much more will they malign those of his household (the church).

I have served as a priest in Siberia, Russia, for 23 years. Here, for 70 plus years, the church was persecuted. I give Holy Communion to elderly people who were once arrested for their faith and put into a prison camp. These elders forgave because un-forgiveness is a kind of spiritual death. Jesus died so we could forgive and be forgiven.

Today’s Christians must be ready to forgive our enemies, of which there are many.

During the Communist rule in Russia the church was considered too liberal. It gave people too much freedom and was considered a danger to the state. The church was hated and people suffered for their faith. In the secular west the church is again hated but for the opposite reason. She is considered too conservative because she doesn’t agree with people acting however they please.

You see, the church is both a divine and human institution, thus it will always critique the present time with a perspective of the ultimate future with God. It will resist evil wherever it surfaces, and it will always have enemies.

Today, not many want to hear that we are all sinners in need of salvation. That is why the cross is such a scandal because there the Son of God dies for our sins. We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dare believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we could ever dare hope.

So are we ready to love those who persecute us? Some 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith this year. One died every six minutes.

In today’s world we hear how the church and Christians are maligned. In hotly debated cultural and moral issues — abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, contraception, the death penalty — the church is seen as a barrier. So again I ask: Do you have enemies?

Loving them does not mean never opposing them, but we do so in ways that shows genuine care and concern, with no vindictiveness.

Jesus tells us to “Turn the other cheek.” This shows our openness to be reconciled to those who oppose us, to start a relationship on a new footing of both justice and love.

This approach requires speaking the truth in love. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps people in denial about the harmful effects of sin. Truth without love, on the other hand, is harsh and often merely judgmental. It may give true information but in a way that others cannot bear to hear.

Speaking the truth in genuine love can be challenging. But Jesus urges us love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, that we may all be children of our Heavenly Father.

Jesus broke bread with those who later took him to his death and betrayed him. He had Communion with friends who turned enemies.

Can we break bread with our enemies? Alone we cannot forgive and love like we should but that is why Jesus died on the cross. With him we can truly desire that our enemies be forgiven and healed along with us.

How to begin? Start by saying the names of those you struggle to love. Do this before you receive the bread of life and, yes, the cup of salvation.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.

'What? Love our enemies? How is this possible?'
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