But love your enemies
A Homily for the Second Sunday after the Exultation of the Holy Cross
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
But love your Enemies
(2nd Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Luke 6: 31-36)
What is the definition of the human being? What characterizes a human being? Usually philosophers give 3 characteristics: They say that a human being is first a living being, second a rational being, and third a social being.
- As living being he has been given a human life, a human body which he needs to take care of, so that he may live in health and happiness.
- As rational being he has been given a reason, an intelligence to know things and reach the truth. He has to develop the capacities of his reason, so that he can enjoy the happiness of knowledge.
- As social being he is called to live in a family and in a society, and he is called to live in peaceful and just relationship with the members of his family and the members of the society.
These are the 3 characteristics by which the philosophers define a human being. As believers we add a fourth characteristic. We say that more of that a human being is also a spiritual being, which means a being related to God. And it is this spiritual relationship to God which guarantees the perfect development of each of the 3 first characteristics. I say “the perfect development”, because without God, our life is relative and destined to death, our knowledge is limited, shaky and subject to error, and our social relationships are unstable and rocky.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to develop our social being in a spiritual way. He starts by considering the axiom, “the golden rule”, that is accepted as a virtue by all people – Jews and pagans alike, believers and atheists. It goes like this: “Even as you wish men to do to you, so also do you to them”. Such a rule is very simple and is accepted by everyone; it only requires equal treatment among people. So Christ’s disciples have no merit if they are content with this rule. And he applies this rule to 3 actions: “to love”, “to do good”, and “to lend”. He says:
“If you love those who love you, what merit have you? For even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what merit have you? For even sinners do that.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive in return, what merit have you? For even sinners lend to sinners, that they may get back as much in return.”
This is the right human behavior between people. To do otherwise would be considered as demonic and evil.
Now Jesus describes to his disciples the divine behavior. His followers must not be content with the human behavior; they are called to imitate God’s behavior: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful”.
Why must we love our enemies? From the teaching and example of Jesus, we see 3 reasons:
- The first reason is in order to be really sons of God. How does God behave towards the wicked and unrighteous? God, says Jesus, “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”; God is merciful to everyone. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says: “God causes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (5:45). Why is God merciful to the righteous and the unrighteous? Why does God love the ungrateful and the wicked? Because they are his children. God hates the sin, but he loves the sinners, because, even sinners, they remain his children, and he still loves them. So the first reason which motivates us to love our enemies is to behave as children of God, to imitate our Father in heaven.
- Second: God is merciful to the sinners and he shows them his mercy, in order to save them, by calling them to repentance, as we read in the Gospel of St. John: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (3:17). According to modern psychology, what is the best way to approach aggressive behavior in children? It is not by further aggressive behavior towards them, but by showing them your love. Because aggressive behavior, when fully understood, is, in fact, nothing but love frustrated and an expression of the need for love. And this is true not only for children but for every man and woman. Violence and enmity shown by a person are usually means for taking revenge on society which has let that person down, had deserted and dehumanized him. We read in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:20-21). In this sense love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
- A third reason for loving our enemies is that only love can break the vicious circle of hatred. Jesus on the Cross forgave his murderers. He prayed to God: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). When the Roman centurion heard Jesus dying in this way, he said: “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15: 39).
I knew a Muslim Lebanese Shiite who converted to Christianity, became a priest and founded a social institution in Beirut for poor children. His name is Fr. Afif Osseiran, and his brother was a member of the Lebanese parliament. When we asked him what caused him to become a Christian, he answered: “I started reading the Gospel, and when I arrived at this saying of Jesus: “Love your enemies”, I said to myself: These words cannot be said by a man, they must be divine words; and the man who said them must be the Son of God. Only by loving our enemies we can convert them, and change the world to God.
Who are my enemies? Don’t go so far. Our enemies may be very close to us. They may be members of our family: husband, wife, children. They may be our relatives. They may be members of our parish. Wherever and whenever there is hatred between people, grudge, bitterness, quarrels, antipathy or lack of understanding, there is enmity. Don’t let these evil feelings overcome you. When you come to pray, get rid of them. God does not want us to live in hatred and bitterness, but in peace and love. God wants us to live in happiness. And we come to the church to ask God to forgive our sins, to change our minds, to give us the real happiness, for “every good gift and every perfect grace is from above, coming down from him the Father of lights”. That is the meaning of the Beatitudes by which Jesus started his sermon on the mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit …
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
Blessed are the meek …
Blessed are the merciful …
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
The word “blessed” in Greek is makarioi, and it means “happy”. It is a real blessing, and a real happiness to be called sons of God.
Let us conclude by the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
where there is despair, let me sow hope;
where there is darkness, let me sow light;
where there is sadness, let me sow joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:
to be consoled as to console,
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”