Today, on the Second Sunday of Luke, we hear Jesus’ challenging words about loving our enemies. He starts by saying that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated. This so-called “Golden Rule” is found in various religions, and is really common sense if we wish to live together with other people in harmony. However, Jesus then goes further and tells us that we should also love our enemies and do good to them.
This text comes immediately after what are known as the Beatitudes (which we sing during the Liturgy on most Sundays), in which Jesus Christ really turns the world’s values on their head. In contrast to our society that values the rich, the powerful, and the popular, He tells us that it is the poor and those who hunger who are blessed, and that we should consider ourselves fortunate when people hate us and exclude us. And, moreover, He advises us to respond to them with love and forgiveness.
These are harsh words that we can too easily try to rationalise away, for who can live up to them? The key is given when Jesus tells us to “be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Indeed, it is by looking at Christ Himself that we find the answer, for He is the ultimate example of the One who was rejected and betrayed, even to death, and yet He did not respond in kind. By loving His enemies and praying for those who persecuted Him, Jesus Christ opened up the possibility for us of a different way of responding. And it was in this way that He ultimately conquered death.
We cannot do this on our own, for it goes against the norms of our fallen world, which also sit deeply within us. But it is the path Jesus Christ calls us to, and by following Him we too can learn – gradually, and sometimes by falling and getting up again – what it means to lay down our lives for those around us. But we will only be able to do so by remaining close to Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.