Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why is love of enemies so central to the Gospel?

This is from the Letter from Taizé: 2003/4. Go to the Taizé website to read the entire article. 

In the sixth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus urges his disciples at length to respond to hatred with love (Luke 6:27-35; cf. Matthew 5:43-48). Situated in that context, this text shows that for Luke, love of one’s opponents is what characterizes the disciples of Christ.

Jesus’ words depict two ways of living. The first is that of “sinners,” in other words, those who behave without reference to God and his Word. They act towards others according to the way others treat them; their action is in fact a re-action. Such people divide the world into two camps—their friends and those who are not their friends—and are good only to those who are good to them. The other way of living does not refer first and foremost to a group of human beings, but rather to God himself. God does not react according to the way he is treated. On the contrary, God “is good to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35).

Jesus thus puts his finger on the essential feature of the God of the Bible. Source of overflowing goodness, God does not let himself be conditioned by the wickedness of others. Even when forgotten or rejected, God continues to be faithful to himself; all God can do is love. This is true from the very beginning. Centuries before the coming of Christ Jesus, a prophet explained that, unlike human beings, God is always ready to forgive: “Your thoughts are not my thoughts and my ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:7-8). The prophet Hosea, for his part, hears the Lord tell him, “I will not give rein to my fierce anger… for I am God and not human” (Hosea 11:9). In a word, our God is merciful (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15; 116:5 etc.); God “does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us as would befit our offences” (Psalm 103:10).

What is new in the Gospel is not so much that God is a Source of goodness, but that human beings can and should act in the image of their Creator: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful!” (Luke 6:36). By the coming of his Son into our world as a human being, this divine Source of goodness is now accessible to us. We can become in our turn “sons and daughters of the Most High” (Luke 6:35), beings who are able to respond to evil with good, to hatred with love. By living a universal compassion, by forgiving those who hurt us, we witness that the God of mercy is present at the heart of a world marked by the rejection of others, where those who are different are despised or ignored. Impossible for human beings reduced to their own powers, loving one’s enemies witnesses to the activity of God himself in our midst. No outward commandment can make it possible. Only the presence in our hearts of divine love in person, the Holy Spirit, enables us to live in this way. This love is a direct result of Pentecost. It is not for nothing that the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55), ends with these words: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). In the footsteps of Jesus himself (cf. Luke 23:34), the disciple makes it possible for the sinister land of violence to be illuminated by the light of God’s love.


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