Advice For Us On Loving Our Neighbours

Saturday of Week 1 in Lent

Deut. 26:16-19 & Mt. 5:43-48

We must love our enemies. Jesus makes this unmistakably clear to His followers. Among His many teachings this is perhaps the most difficult to understand and obey. At first glance it seems more like an idealistic dream than a serious thought about life. We live in a tough world in which a lot of wicked things are done by some ruthless people. How could Jesus possibly suggest that anyone should love their enemies? Some people have found these words so incredible that they have doubted whether Jesus ever actually said them! But before we tear them out of the Bible or write them off as dreamy idealism, we should at least try to understand what they mean. To do this we shall have to ask some questions.

Firstly, who is Jesus talking about? Who are these enemies that we are supposed to love? In time of war, that is a fairly easy question to answer. Our enemies are the people on the opposite side we are fighting. When Jesus first spoke these words, His hearers probably thought He was referring to the conquering Romans. Is this what Jesus meant? I am sure He meant us to include a larger circle of people than those on the battlefield. He was talking about loving the people with whom we live and work, rubbing shoulders with them day after day. Some of these people are unpleasant, unkind and unfair. They say things we don’t like. They treat us in ways that undermine our confidence. They make life more difficult and, sometimes, even downright impossible. I think these are the people that Jesus had in mind when He spoke of enemies.

Secondly, what did Jesus mean by love? When we use that word, we usually mean fond affection or a warm feeling for someone. Is that what Jesus had in mind when He told us to love our enemies? Surely no one could feel fond affection for everyone? Even Jesus did not have warm feelings for those money changers He drove from the Temple. Without doubt He was angry at their behaviour, but He loved them. Love is not so much a matter of feelings but a deliberate act of will. We have to say, 'Regardless of how I feel towards that person, I will, as a matter of principle, seek his or her highest good.' This means that, as a Christian, I will not stoop to hatred nor to revenge; and if ever I find the opportunity arises, I will do my best to help that person in time of need.

Finally, how does God love us? Jesus says, "He causes His sun to rise on the bad and the good, and He sends His rain on the just and the unjust." There are times when we have to include ourselves among the bad and the unjust. We have not always proved to be God's most trusted friends but He never stops loving everyone. Fortunately for us, perhaps, He does not pick and choose the people whom He loves. If we want to be among His very own people, as Moses says in today's first reading, we must follow His example. It is not enough to love our friends; we must widen the circle and include our enemies.

Lord Jesus, You taught us how to love our enemies. You died on the Cross for everyone … yes, even those who put You to death, whom You asked Your Father to forgive. Help me to love all my enemies, pray for them and forgive them as You did.