Love For Others Starts With . . .
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Love for Others Starts With . . .
Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Love for Others Starts with . . . me. I love the ones I want to love. I love my children because they are of my own flesh and blood. They are my family. They are my precious gifts.
I love my wife. I would not have loved my wife though if she was mean to me in high school. (Although sometimes she was in Chemistry class. Ask me about that later.) I would not have loved my wife if we had different interests. I would not have loved my wife if she did not love me. But we did have the same interests in high school. She was just as silly and energetic and fun back then as she is now. Best of all, she actually liked me back. So she loves me and I love her.
I also love my friends. I did not ever want to be friends with the bullies in school. I didn’t want to hang around people who didn’t understand me or like me. I have always loved and been faithful to the friends who returned the sentiments. Those who lost touch with me I’ve lost touch with as well.
I love a lot of people. Friends, family, neighbors. I avoid those who give me problems. I scowl through my blinds at the neighbors who walk their dog and pause at my lawn every day. I remove from my life those who’ve gone off the deep end. Love for Others Starts with . . . me and my love for those who love me back.
The problem though is that this is not what Jesus teaches. Last week we received a brutal bashing from Jesus. I think all of us who heard Jesus teach about anger and adultery and our words last week were greatly humbled by what Jesus said—and very thankful for his forgiveness.
You could say that an ending to this whole section about living a godly life ends today with the last verse, verse 48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Last week we saw how miserably far we fall short of that perfection. But there is still one more thing Jesus has to teach us about living a godly life—to love our enemies.
Listen to what Jesus says today: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
What do you do (or did you do) when the schoolyard bully wants to push you around? What do you do when a coworker continually harasses you? What do you do when your ex won’t pay alimony or child support? What do you do when you get in a minor fender bender and the other driver wants to take the opportunity to sue you for thousands? What do you do when your boss exploits your faithful work and makes you work extra time or over time or gives you twice the work simply because you aren’t lazy like the rest? What do you do when someone asks you for money but might not pay you back?
Well, we know what we would do. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” You bully me, I’m going to fight back. Some teach their kids, “If someone pushes you, you knock them out cold and teach them not to mess with you.” If someone sues me, I’m going to counter-sue for twice as much. If someone forces me to do extra work, I’m going to put up such a fuss with the HR department, or I’m going to sabotage the company so much that they’ll learn never to do that to me again. If someone doesn’t pay me back, they’re never getting money again. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”
But that’s not what Jesus says. If someone strikes you, he says turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, give him your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go a second mile. If someone asks you to borrow something or borrow money, you give generously. That’s not at all easy to do! It’s so difficult, that you might be scratching your head right now wondering how in the world you are going to do what Jesus is asking!
But if that wasn’t clear enough or hard enough, Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
How do you feel about the terrorists that plant bombs and hijack our airplanes? How did you feel on the days after 9/11 when you saw video footage of Muslims cheering in the Middle East? How do you feel about that person at work who is always out to get you? How do you feel about those that are so eager to remove Christianity from our country? Do you love those that hate you? Do you love your enemies and even pray for your enemies?
This might be where we draw the line, right? Yes, Jesus’ preaching was hard to swallow last week. But we know he is right. We do need to get rid of the anger and lust and the unwholesome talk in our lives. But this week? Come on, Jesus! Love my enemies too? Love my ex? Love the person trying to sue me or steal from me? Love the people that always have their hands out but never give back to me? Love people that hate me? Pray for people that want to kill me? How am I supposed to do that? Love for Others Starts with . . . me and I don’t love the people that don’t love me!
What Jesus teaches us today is completely contrary to who we are and what we do. There is nothing in me what wants to love someone that hurts me or harms my children or takes advantage of me. Why would I forgive the drunk driver that killed my sister? Why would I forgive the man that hurt my kids? How could I forgive the terrorists that destroy my family and my country?
But did you hear what I’ve said over and over today? How could I? Why would I? Why should I? You see the problem with Jesus’ teaching is not as much my lack of love for my enemies. The real problem is how much I love myself.
You see, I would much rather be angry with the person that hurts me because the anger is more satisfying. I would much rather cuss out, even kill, the person that hurts my children because the vengeance would taste so sweet. I would much rather countersue the person suing me because I’ll teach them a lesson and I might get some money out of it. I would prefer not to give to those asking to borrow because I need to look out for me and my things first.
I. Me. My. Mine. There is no way I will ever love my enemies, or anyone properly, if I always love myself first. If I think, Love for Others Starts with . . . me, then I am horribly wrong because my love always falls short.
But Jesus’ love never does. The amazing thing about Jesus is that he didn’t just teach about loving his enemies. He actually did. I could give you countless examples of his patient teaching with the Pharisees, or the time he simply walked by the people trying to push him off a cliff in his own hometown, or his last attempts to warn Judas about betraying him. But we really see no greater example of Jesus’ love for his enemies than at his passion during Holy Week.
On Good Friday Jesus fulfilled the love he teaches perfectly. Whipped. Beaten. Mocked. Spit on. Crucified. Ridiculed some more. Yet the Bible tells us that Jesus went silently like a lamb going to the slaughter. Jesus has all the power in the universe—he made the universe—yet he willingly let his enemies torture and crucify him. He even prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
That’s really what Jesus was there for—forgiveness. Jesus went to the cross to win forgiveness for all people, even his enemies. And that list of enemies even includes us. We have sinned against him. We have disobeyed him and defied him. So for those who sinned against him like us, to those that hated him cried for his death, to those who even mocked him while he was dying—for all of his enemies Jesus laid down his life and died to bring them forgiveness.
It’s almost unthinkable, to ponder the depths of love it would take to be so selfless, so compassionate, and so loving that you would die for others that don’t deserve it. How completely opposite is Jesus’ love compared to ours! Our love is often me-driven. It’s often selfish or self-indulgent or self-motivated. But Jesus truly put us first and himself second as he came to take away our sins by his death.
I’ve had it wrong the whole time. Love for others does not start with me. Love for Others Starts with . . . Jesus. It is his perfect, selfless, unfailing love for me that teaches me how to love other people. It is his love for me, a sinner that disobeys him, that teaches me how to love my enemies. It is never ending love that teaches me to love and love and love beyond what I thought I could ever do.
This is what God’s children do. Take another look at verse 44 today. Jesus said, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” When we show love to our enemies and to those that persecute us, we show ourselves to be children of our heavenly Father who also loves in such a way. Jesus continues, “He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on believers and unbelievers. His kindness extends to all people. So we can do the same.
After all, Jesus says in verse 46: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?” What would be so special about loving the people who love you? Don’t the most heathen unbelievers of the world do that? If you warmly welcome your own family into your home, don’t all other people of the world do the same? What is so special about that?
But all people do not show love to their enemies. They don’t forgive those that take advantage of them. They don’t set their anger aside to settle things in patience. They don’t leave the vengeance and justice up to God. They don’t put the needs of others first. Other people of the world don’t do those things. But we do. Why would we do these things? Because we know that Jesus loved us, his enemies, so much that he died for our wrongs. He did that so that he could make us, his enemies, into his friends that will live with him forever in heaven.
Love for others does not start with me. Love for others always starts with Jesus. It’s his love that forgives my lack of love. It’s his love that motivates me and moves me love. It’s his love that will give me the strength to love others, even those that don’t love me back.
Jesus’ preaching in this famous Sermon on the Mount has been very difficult to hear these last few weeks. It is even harder to put into practice. So when we hear Jesus say, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” it terrifies us because we know we haven’t been even close to perfect.
But as we fall at the feet of our Savior and pray, Kyrie, Eleison—Lord, have mercy—he shows his unfathomable love day after day by forgiving us once more. It’s that endless, boundless, flawless love of Jesus for me that truly teaches me to love others with no end, with no conditions, with no limitations. Love for Others Starts with . . . Jesus. God grant this his love fill us and spill over in us for friends and foes.