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Jesus modeled loving your enemies

January 20, 2024
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Daily Scripture

Matthew 26:47-50, Luke 23:32-34

Matthew 26
47 While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came. With him was a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss.” 49 Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello, Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.
50 But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

Luke 23
32 They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. 33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

From a transcript of Dr. King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Nov. 17, 1957): “The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” *

From Dr. King’s book Strength to Love (1963): “Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” **

Jesus words about loving your enemies were not, of course, just an abstract theory. Under the most terrible duress, Jesus lived those words. In the dark of night, an armed crowd came to Gethsemane to arrest him. Leading them was Judas, “one of the Twelve.” He chose a bizarre signal: “Arrest the man I kiss.” Yet the first word Jesus spoke to him was “friend.” As scholar N. T. Wright put it, “It is of course the word ‘friend’ that causes us to catch our breath. Friendship, for Jesus, does not stop with betrayal, even though now it is tinged with deep sadness.” *** Later that same day, Jesus prayed, not for himself, but for Roman soldiers nailing him to the cross. Scholar Craig Keener noted there were many Old Testament texts that prayed for judgment on enemies (see 2 Chronicles 24:22; Psalm 137:7–9; Jeremiah  15:15; 17:18; 18:23; 20:12), then added, “Jesus exemplifies his own teaching here (Luke 6:28).” ****

  • What a stirring way Dr. King found of describing what Jesus did: “inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.” How often on the news or talk shows do you hear love, especially toward enemies, spoken of as “strong and powerful”? Yet in Acts 7:59-60, as some of the same people who had crucified Jesus were ending his life, we see Stephen, an early Jesus follower, showing how Jesus’ model injected the ability to love enemies into his heart: “As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, accept my life!’ Falling to his knees, he shouted, ‘Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!’ Then he died.” Thankfully, most of us do not have enemies trying to kill us. In what ways, in school, a workplace, a neighborhood, or even a family, does someone treat you in ways that make them feel like an enemy? How can you allow God’s love to make you strong enough to love your enemies in everyday life?
Prayer

Lord Jesus, I don’t like it when people hurt me or people I care about. Neither did you—yet you conquered those evil actions, not by lashing back, but by using the mysterious power of love. Inject that strong, powerful element more fully into my life. Amen.

GPS Insights

Angie McCarty

Angie McCarty

Angie McCarty serves as Senior Adult Ministry Director at Resurrection Leawood and as part-time pastor at Spring Hill United Methodist Church. She is an ordained elder from the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church who moved to Kansas from Arizona in 2017. She received her doctorate from Saint Paul School of Theology last year. Angie is married to Jonathan Bell, who also serves on staff at Resurrection. Together they have six kids, a live-in sister who is active in Matthew’s Ministry, and a totally joyful life.

We learn the concept of friends and enemies very early in life. Young children learn about good guys and bad guys. Enemies like Ursula, Jafar, and Darth Vadar have us rooting for evil to be defeated. Moving into adolescence brings enemies who look much more real. The mean girls in school, the football players or the bullies segregate teenagers into the haves and have nots. As our adult brain kicks in, we realize that there are enemies much bigger than those in our own lives. Adolph Hitler–the world will never be the same after the tragedies at his hands. Leaders of modern-day armed conflicts in far off places like Yemen and the Tigray region of Ethiopia and Mozambique are very real enemies to the people who are harmed by their hands. But let’s not take this too far across the globe, because sometimes the enemy we face exists in our own house in the form of our addiction, our abuser, depression, anxiety, or our own broken hearts.

If someone has hurt me to the core and I consider them my enemy, how on earth do I love them? Jesus knows my frailties and liabilities yet still expects this of me? I’m supposed to love them? Honestly, I want to live in the just world that says an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That would be a world where my enemies receive justice. However, this kind of justice results very quickly in a toothless, sightless world, said Ghandi.

If we take Jesus seriously when he calls us to love our enemy, what does that look like? Let me offer a huge disclaimer: This is really important. When loving your enemy, you are not ever required to put yourself in harm’s way. Loving your abuser does not mean being in relationship with her or him. Jesus is not calling us to risk harm to ourselves or others. Too many manipulators have used “love your enemies” to bring people back into abusive relationships, and this is not what Jesus is teaching.

Loving our enemies might look like: do no harm. If we can’t offer a loving act, then staying away and shutting our mouth might be the most loving act we can offer.

Bless them. When you think of your enemy, offer a blessing. To bless someone means to ask that God’s good intentions be poured onto a person and is an acknowledgement of your enemy’s humanity. God please bless (insert enemy’s name here even if you have to grit your teeth to get the words out). Speak the blessing out loud. Over time this may or may not change your enemy into a better person. It does change your heart into a follower of Christ.

Finally, pray for your enemy. Call them by name. Ask God to heal the hurts in their lives that motivate their hurtful actions. Ask God to heal the hurts in our lives that leave us so angry. Ask God to show them mercy. Ask God to show us mercy!

I wish Jesus was kidding when he asked this of us. I wish he had offered an out that said, “Love your enemies, unless they [insert whatever my enemy has done to me].” As much as I read Jesus’ words, I simply don’t find any excuse for not loving my neighbor. I will join you today in keeping my mouth shut, offering a blessing and praying for my enemy.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
** Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (King Legacy) (p. 47). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
*** Wright, N. T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 163). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, Kindle Edition.
**** Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (pp. 9062-9063). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.