“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from "Loving Your Enemies")” Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gospel Text: (MT 5:43-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
This must have been a startling teaching for the original audience of the Sermon on the Mount. For first-century Jews, “your enemies” and “those who persecute you” were most obviously the despised Roman oppressors. But Jesus challenged his disciples to love and to pray for the very people who occupy their land, tax them heavily and treat them harshly and unjustly.
His teaching, however, is no more shocking than the example of love for enemy recounted by Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. She recalls the story of Amy Biehl, a young American and anti-apartheid activist who was serving the people of South Africa. In 1993, just days before Amy was scheduled to return to the United States for graduate school, militants murdered her just outside Cape Town.
Her parents, Dr. Woo, says, “turned their unspeakable sorrow into service grounded in a deep understanding of the oppression that bred the hatred responsible for their daughter’s death.” Linda and Peter Biehl created a foundation to improve the lives of South Africans through education, job training, art, music, and sports. The most shocking – or perhaps the most grace-filled – moment came when two of the young men responsible for Amy’s death stepped forward to continue her work and spread her legacy.
The kind of radical love and forgiveness displayed by the Biehls’ is precisely what Jesus calls us all to embrace. When we respond to persecution by loving and forgiving our enemies, we take on the characteristics of the Father himself “who makes his sun rise on the bad and good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”