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Agape love is something like good weather - it's impartial and free to friend and foe alike. It is the kind of love we learn from our heavenly Father.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matthew 5:43-45 NKJV
Love, Bless, Do Good and Pray
The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, prayed for his enemies. He prayed for their shame, demoralization and destruction. The Psalmist prayed that terror and harm would come to the children of his enemies. These are not the kind of prayers Jesus had in mind!
The law in Leviticus 19:18 said we are not to take vengeance or bear a grudge against a fellow-citizen. Instead, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Over time that was interpreted as meaning - if you love your neighbor then it must be right to hate your enemy.
Our natural tendency is to demonize our enemy with insults--like crook, whore, bastard, the devil. We use racial and cultural slurs to draw a line between them and us. Or we jokingly mispronounce and ridicule their name. We belittle, devalue and marginalize. Hate is our way of separating out certain people.
Again Jesus said "no" to our way of thinking. Love your enemies, and pray for them! In your mind bring them into God's family. They, too, were created by God. They too, are loved by God. Bless them and do good to them, even as the sun shines on both the evil and the good and God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.
In this series of teachings, Jesus stated the ancient law and then said, "But this is what I say . . . ." The laws are good, Jesus told his disciples, but you must be more than the Law demands. He is holding out the promise that when we love our enemies, we will truly be God's sons and daughters. In this passage, Jesus is calling us to be much more than we ever thought we could be.
I started laying out this page on Sunday evening. The next morning, Oct. 2, 2006, a tragedy occurred near my home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A gunman barricaded himself in an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, then killed himself. Those of you who have experienced similar horrors know the shock and pain felt by the whole community. It is Wednesday morning now and 5 of the girls are dead, several are still in critical condition in area hospitals, and one of the victims is showing signs of recovery.
The Amish people are pacifists who take seriously the words of Jesus to love our enemies. They will continue believing that God is in charge of both life and death, and that in death we are ushered into a place much superior to what we have here. So they comfort each other and they also comfort the rest of us who feel burdened by guilt for the great injustice done to their families. Amish neighbors have even gone to the gunman's family with words of assurance and hugs of forgiveness.
It will take time for most of us to process this experience. Many lives will never be the same again. School children want to know why this happened and if they are also in danger. Adults try to explain the unexplainable. Some lose faith in the goodness of God while others are strengthened by the abundance of God-like care and concern. The greatest pain may well be in the gunman's household where hiswife and three little children will live the rest of their lives in the shadow of his horrendous final deed.
Those children from that schoolhouse who were not harmed went to another classroom the day after the shooting. Their Amish parents will live on in faith that good will come from this tragedy. They will workand weep in community with each other. Friends and neighbors are helping with chores. Funds of financial support have been established to pay hospital costs for the injured children and to aid the gunman's family.
"There's a harvest to complete."--with those words an Amish man on the evening news indicated that life would go forward. Although their children had been brutally attacked, their community would not get sidetracked and burdened down with hurtful thoughts. They would not hate. They would not think about revenge.
Those who work in the kingdom of heaven also have a harvest to complete. Disciples must not get distracted by fears and doubt, by anger and blame. Negative emotions are excess baggage, but love will set us free. Free to be like our Father in heaven. Free to love even in the midst of pain. Free to return evil with good.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe someone who, at one point in your life you did not like, but now you do like them.
How do you respond to Jesus' prescription for dealing with enemies: love, bless, do good and pray? Do you think it is possible to hate someone you pray for? Did you ever genuinely wish your enemy well? Did you ever do a good deed for someone who treated you badly? Next time someone rubs you the wrong way, will you pray for them?
"You may not be able to make yourself feel love, but you can be obedient to Jesus' command to bless, do good and pray for your enemies." React to that statement. Is it love if you don't feel it?
What is the connection between fear, hate and bigotry?
The Greek word agape refers to love that is all-inclusive and unconditional, like God's love. It means loving those who may not like us, or loving the unlovable. Is it possible to love someone you do not like? Explain your answer.
Those who curse you, hate you, treat you with spite, persecute or attack you--these are all ways that some people treat God. How does God react to this kind of abuse? Some people believe that God avenges such behavior. Do you agree or disagree with that kind of theology? What is the message of the Cross and how does that message help us to understand Jesus' command to love our enemy?
What is the reason Jesus gave for loving our enemies? Is that sufficient motivation for you? Why or why not?
We sing about "Amazing Grace." What do you think is so amazing about God's love and grace? When do you have the opportunity to pass that amazing grace along and extend it to others?
In one of the Beatitudes, Jesus called peacemakers the children of God. What is it about making peace and loving our enemies that prompted Jesus to make that claim?