In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ most difficult and challenging teaching: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus has already taught that God’s demand and will is summed up and focused in the twofold command to love God and to love your neighbor. These two commands are inseparable. He then makes this twofold command even more challenging by telling us our “neighbor” includes our “enemies.”
This Saturday is the 20th memorial of 9/11. We join together in prayer for all of those who lost their lives that day and for their families who continue to bear that heavy burden. One of the things that I vividly remember after that terrorist attack was the weekday Gospel that week. It was today’s Gospel. How hard it was to hear this Gospel after the 9/11 terrorist attack. How difficult it continues to be to hear this Gospel each year since it always comes up in the lectionary cycle around the 9/11 anniversary.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” Recall the words of C.K. Chesterton: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” While Jesus is not demanding that we become doormats or allow ourselves to be taken advantage of; He is demanding that we love one another as God has loved us. This love extends not just to our friends but even to our enemies. Jesus also gave guidance to His first disciples and to us how to face a world that at times can be hostile: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Still the challenge remains: “Love your enemies.”