Love Your Enemies
Deut. 10: 17-21; Psalm 145; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 43-48
July 6, 2008
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” - Abraham Lincoln
In Matthew’s gospel words, “Love your enemies”, Jesus really does intend to indicate that if you follow Jesus, you are to love people who attack you, oppress you, and hold you down—he really does intend to have you “pray for” POLITICAL enemies—he is not just talking about loving those of your own family or clan or synagogue, or village, who annoy you. Yes, you are to love all these people with whom you have a designated relationship, but in God’s radical love, we are to love even those who hate us.
Matthew’s gospel really does tell of the Jesus who makes love of God and love of ALL neighbors (not just those neighbors who are similar to you….) ALL are to be loved—this is the fundamental command on which EVERYTHING ELSE DEPENDS. Here he makes LOVE OF ENEMIES SPECIFIC and CONCRETE—this is not just some theoretical “pie in the sky” love, that you are to pay lip-service to, but not actually live out in your life.
This specific, absolute command to love your enemies, is unparalleled in Judaism or paganism. No other religious leader was commanding love of enemies. In Jesus’ historical context, such love of enemies referred especially to the Roman occupying forces—the enemy was the oppressive Roman rulers who overtaxed and sent thousands of Jewish people to their deaths by crucifixion for failing to obey Roman law. Jesus commands that those who follow his way must “dig a little deeper” into their souls to look upon these murderous enemies as God’s children, and to love them, even though they are causing harm to so many of God’s beloved children.
God’s love for all becomes universal love when the people of God apply this love specifically to those who we, on the human level, would not deem worthy of ANY love. Jesus’ message of love is the most radical love of all. [ There is irony in the fact that it was this radical message of love that led him to his own death upon a cross—even as he died upon his cross, he said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.]
What does Jesus’ radical message of love, to love even your enemies, have to do with Independence Day in the United States of America? Well, for me, it has everything to do with what our forefathers intended when they fought vigorously for freedom. You see, I believe the United States of America is one of the most phenomenal experiments in human/God history: an experiment in tolerance, love and forgiveness that our founding fathers (and mothers) created; not only for the sake of those who live in these United States, but for the world. When our founding fathers fought to make it possible for all people to be equal, for all people to live with a freedom to “pursue happiness”, they were fighting for the possibility of Jesus’ command to “love one another” as he loved us—including loving our enemies. It is here, in the United States of America that untold thousands of people who would otherwise have lived lives of hatred and resentment toward their “enemy” have come to learn how to live in peace and harmony, in many cases, how to genuinely “love their enemy.”
Story of two “enemies” who became friends, in the book AN UNCOMMON FRIENDSHIP: this is one of those “Only in America” stories.
Bernie Rosner and Fritz Tubach met each other as adults in the United States. This is the story of how these two men, if they had continued to live in their native countries of Hungary and Germany, rather than coming to the United States, would have lived lives as “enemies”—one on the side of the oppressed Jews, who had been slaughtered by the holocaust of WWII, and the other as a Nazi Army “Jungvolk”, pre-Hitler Youth member.
Bernie, grew up in a small village in Hungary, a rather common, enjoyable, simple village life-style. He was Jewish; his father was a well respected leader of their town. When he was 12 years old, Nazi SS men rounded up all the Jews of his village, stuffing Bernie and his father, mother and little brother and him into a train box car. They appointed his dad “leader of the box car”—when they finally got to their destination, Bernie’s father was immediately whisked away from his family without even a good-bye—Bernie’s mother instructed Bernie to remain with his little brother no matter what happened, then she was whisked away. Bernie never saw his parents again. The two boys were taken another direction; Bernie carefully tried to remain with his brother, but at one point a Nazi SS officer told Bernie to get into another line with older boys—and he had to leave his little brother, much to his dismay. Bernie’s dad, mom and brother all perished, while he somehow managed to cling to every moment of “just barely escaping death” in Auschwitz, the most severe German Concentration camp.
Fritz grew up in a little German town, enjoying much the same country life as Bernie did in Hungary. He was 13 years old when he began attending meetings of Hitler’s “Jungvolk”, pre-military meetings. Fritz and one of his buddies were not always comfortable going to these meetings, and would “play hooky”, going for hikes in the woods, or doing a puzzle or something fun. Fritz’s father was an officer in the Nazi German army. Fritz was often praised for his beautiful blue eyes—Fritz was not afraid anyone would harm him in the turbulent days of war.
Each of these men ended up in the United States, married to American women. Bernie became an executive lawyer for Safeway Corporation, right here in Oakland, California. Fritz became a professor of German studies at U.C. Berkeley. Co-incidentally their wives had been friends in school who reconnected years later, and through their wives Bernie and Fritz began to socialize.
These men could very easily have been “enemies” as adults. Bernie especially could have told his wife, there is NO WAY I could possibly sit at the dinner table with a German. As they discovered each other’s history, each could have been so completely horrified by the realization of their lives on opposite sides of the horrific war, that they could have hated one another, or at least ignored one another. Because they lived in the United States and were free to develop “new lives”, built on a freedom to think for themselves, and make choices for good. As they reveal in their joint “memoir”, AN UNCOMMON FRIENDSHIP, each of them made a conscious choice to NOT LET THE EVIL OF HITLER continue. By choosing to become friends instead of enemies, they were able to bring peace where there had been war. By choosing to “love their enemy”, they were LIVING the gospel truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one was not even a Christian.
Is there someone you don’t like? Can you love that person, as God loves you? Is there someone that others have created as an “enemy” in your life? Can you make that person your friend? You have the freedom to do so, do you have the will to do so? Can you do it in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who gave his life, loving his enemies.
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