Summary: A sermon about loving our enemies.
“Are We Supposed to Take Jesus’ Words Seriously?”
Somebody hurt you—and you can’t forget about it.
Maybe it was yesterday; maybe last month.
Maybe it was years ago, and the memory of that injury still lurks in unguarded corners of your mind.
It’s a monster, that irrepressible hate—a dreadful monster.
You aren’t alone.
Everyone else has felt it, too.
Every human person knows what it’s like to feel injured, maybe even by someone we once loved or respected.
And the resentment builds into an overwhelming flood, until one day it bursts open in the form of rage.
Or it becomes anxiety, eroding our souls.
Jesus has some hardcore Words on the subject of resentment, and how to deal with it: “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well.
If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.”
And the real kicker is: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.”
These are hard, hard Words.
One pastor writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner.
No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in.”
And perhaps Jesus would have had an easier time of it if He would have left this item off the menu.
I mean, “who wants to love an enemy?”
Congregations fill stadiums to hear sermons on “Three Easy Steps to Love” and “Five paths to a Better Life.”
If Jesus had preached either of those sermons on the mount, it’s been said: “Constantine would have been born into a Christian home and baptized as a child.”
But, like the difference between eating our spinach and only eating candy…
…there is a vast difference between what we want and what we need.
At this point in the Gospel, Jesus is teaching His closest followers.
It’s possible that if anyone else had heard these words, they would have laughed out loud and with good reason.
I mean, talk about a call to swim upstream!!!
The Kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity!!!
It’s like, “Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it.”
“Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them.”
“Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.”
These Words have a fresh, spring-like quality to them.
They are all about new life bursting out energetically, like flowers growing through concrete and shocking everyone with their color and strength!!!
But are they possible?
Do they make sense?
Are we really supposed to take these Words of Jesus Seriously?
“Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.”
Today, scientists tend to agree that holding grudges can cause us serious stress, which has a toxic effect on our bodies.
Thinking about an injustice we’ve suffered through a lens of vengeance, hostility, bitterness, resentment, anger, sadness, or all of the above—can raise our blood pressure and our risk of having a stroke and heart attack.
It can also impair the functioning of our immune system.
Holding grudges and seeking vengeance also appears to exacerbate mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
So, in seeking to “get back at” others we are really hurting ourselves.
But how can we do anything different?
And if we don’t “seek revenge” aren’t we just “enabling evil”?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to tell us that the only way to overcome evil is to let it burn out…
…or come to a standstill because it doesn’t find the resistance it’s looking for.
Fighting evil just creates more evil and adds fuel to the fire.
But when evil meets no opposition, but only patient endurance, it at last meets an opponent which is more than its match.
And the Cross of Jesus Christ is the Only Power in the world which proves that suffering love can and does defeat evil!!!
There is no doubt that this teaching of Jesus is hard, as is much of what Jesus teaches.
It’s not just some recipe for self-help, although it does help us.
But it runs against our thinking, our inclinations, our desires, our will.
Therefore, it might be tempting to read this passage of Scripture, and say we do this (forgiving stuff) because if we do we “will have a great reward.”
I mean, who doesn’t want to hear something like: “If you love that rascal down the street, then Jesus will love you all the more, and your reward will be great”?