Luke 6:31-36 (New King James Version):
31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
St. Gregory the Great said this of loving our enemies:-
“When our hearts are reluctant we often have to compel ourselves to pray for our enemies, to pour out prayer for those who oppose us. Would that our hearts were filled with love! How frequently we offer a prayer for our enemies, but do it because we are commanded to, not out of love. We ask the gift of life for them even while we are afraid that our prayer may be heard. The judge of our soul considers our hearts rather than our words. Those who do not pray for their enemies out of love are not asking anything for their benefit.
Jesus, our advocate, has composed a prayer for our case. And our advocate is also our judge. He has inserted a condition in the prayer that reads: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes we say these words without carrying them out. Thus our words bind us more tightly.”
—St. Gregory the Great (540-604), “Be Friends of God”
We should say that “loving the enemy” is the characteristic sign of a person actually being a Christian. As Jesus said, it is easy to love those who love us. He reminds us that since the Father LOVES all, including the cruel and ungrateful we can do no less if we are to be his children.
Now, of course, loving enemies is easier said than done. Most of us find that quite difficult and with some people who really get up our noses, well nigh impossible. That’s why all of us, without exception, need to be converted, to repent daily. Only a repentant heart can truly be merciful toward the unjust, those who offend and those who hurt us. Those who are the most confident that they are basically decent folk with sins none too serious to confess are those inclined to judge others and develop haughty and arrogant attitudes.
There can be no loving of others without humility and there can be no humility without reckoning God, his righteousness, justice, mercy, peace and love to all as infinitely beyond our puny and inconstant feelings of altruism towards our neighbour. We come to God and say: “we have neither known nor understood. You are indeed the lover of mankind against whom there is no comparison. Make us in our loving more worthy of that love, the unworthiest of all.”
St. Gregory is quite clear on his teaching on this Scripture. Loving our enemies is a matter not simply of obedience to Christ, although it is certainly that, it is first and foremost of the heart and what is in it. Is there a Godly love there or are elements of self-love that would rather make conditions for our enemies to fulfil before we will accept them in love? Conversion and repentance means purging our hearts of all that self will, that self interest, that sense of moral indignation that we have been wronged and that we must be avenged.
Let’s get a few things straight. We shall be wronged in this life. Of that there is no doubt. Also it is certain that we shall wrong others. So, let’s start from the realism of that and pray for change, a change in the heart, a change that only God can create but in tune with our heartfelt desire to receive it. If we come to him in sincerity and faith he will take out our heart of stone and instead transplant as our own a heart of flesh, a heart that is warm and loving towards all, friend and enemy alike. We shall then not be ashamed to called “Christian” because others will say it of us not we of ourselves.
How does God give us this heart transplant? He gives us this new heart daily when we repent of our sins and in humility spend ourselves in his service. We make room for him and for others by putting to death all that is unlovely and unloving within us. It is a change therefore that we must strengthen by acting as Christians as well as believing as Christians. We must practice mercy in order to receive mercy.
Let us reflect on how often we implore God for mercy in our worship. Probably hundreds of times! Consider this. If we had to practice mercy, forgive someone who had wronged us in our lives at some point or another, every time we petitioned the Lord to have mercy, how confident would we feel that we had done just that? Perhaps we ought to give greater emphasis in our lives to what we actually do as an expression of our faith for faith without works is dead and saves not.
We need to be very practical about this. One way of dealing with this issue would be to think of, say, three persons (ideally three, but even just one would suffice) who had wronged us or upset as recently. We would then implement a spiritual and practical exercise to deal with this. First we would repent of and reject any bitterness, anger, resentment, self-justification, nursing of wounds that could and would poison our souls and hinder both justice and reconciliation. Secondly, in our minds eye, we should look upon this person is Christ looks upon him or her, that is with compassion. If we found it difficult, maybe even impossible to have love for this person then we would need to go back to repentance, over and over again if necessary, in order that our heart might be softened. Needless to say sacramental confession before a priest is often a vital part of this process if the heart has been hardened. We can so easily delude ourselves that we have forgiven somebody when we haven’t. Once a little love had been sold in our hearts for this person we might then continue in prayer to seek their highest good, not dictating to God what they should do to repent of their evil ways for in this manner an unforgiving spirit returns. No, the highest prayer is to thank God for them and all the good that is truly in them and more especially for the opportunity they have given us to grow in God’s love as well. In this way every trace of evil will be removed from the wound of our offence and what was a curse shall become a blessing both for us and the person who has wronged us.
Behold our enemies await us at the gate. Let us love them truly for maybe even God has put them there for our salvation! By this then we shall be known as Christians, that of all people we shall know none to be foe but rather receive all as brothers and sisters.