A funny thing happened on my way to beginning a reflection on the readings from Wisdom; I saw today's Gospel from Luke 6. see http://www.esvbible.org/Luke+6/ Doing the lectio divina (at least my efforts at it) on the Morning Prayer reading I had my breath taken away by the timing of these verses. Wisdom will have to wait, although it is clearly something ancient and timely which demands our attention.
Luke 6 includes a section of teaching when "Jesus came down and stood on a level place" (Matthew prefers mountains). Having just chosen "the 12" Jesus was involved in a preaching and healing mission. We read that everyone is trying to touch Him, including people troubled by demons. Power (dynamis in Greek) goes forth from Him. Salvation is a holistic process for Jesus.
The words I prayed over today are entirely familiar. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." I have heard them ten thousand times. Yet, as familiar as the words are, the concept remains strange. I do not think that I find it any easier to "love my enemy" today than I did when I first heard that I should.
To love is to desire the welfare of another. It is to want good things to happen to them. This is why Jesus adds "bless those who hate you, pray for those who abuse you." Slowly read over those words and let them sink in. How different from our normal reaction (even inside the church). When that bomb blew a hole into the lives of almost 200 folks in Boston was my first thought to pray blessing on the perpetrator? When we learned the two men were Muslim (in a long line of terrorists motivated by their religious beliefs) was my heart stirred to love them even more? Can Jesus be serious about such a demand?
Return kindness for a slap in the face? Give to whoever asks? Love, do good, lend without expecting repayment from anyone; this is the Jesus way? How often do I talk about "no salvation without Jesus" with a sense of "insider" joy? [The wisdom readings resonate there.] Of course, I am aware that there are other places where Jesus is not so upbeat and positive. He has very harsh words of judgment and speaks of hellfire on more than one occassion. But Christianity is like a salad which contains many ingredients. Mercy and Judgment, Love and Grace, Expectations and Demands.... You cannot pick and choose only the sweet!
In the end, love is a heart thing. Heart in the Biblical sense. Heart means the "inner man" or the "core person." Love is not an emotion. Love is not a feeling. Although emotions and feelings are part of the process of loving, the reality of love is to seek the welfare of the other. It is to desire the welfare of the other. So what then to do? Well clearly, even if I am loving the young murderer from Boston, I am also still called to love the little boy, the "hard-working woman" and the Chinese student who died. I am also called to love the young cops (dead and wounded). I am also still called to love the 150+ who were maimed and crippled, including a large number of amputees who struggle, even as I write this, to learn to walk again (and one plans to dance again). All of them need love and prayers of blessing as well. And loving everyone gets tricky, especially when two of those you love brought such evil and suffering upon the 200 others you love.
In the end, if we love the evil people, the mean people, the terrorists, won't we end up dying? Is Jesus not simply laying down a way of life that will end up costing us everything? I think so. This is not on the face of it 'helpful hints to get ahead." These are dangerous words. These are, seemingly, crazy words. These sound like the words of someone who probably would end up getting crucified or something in ancient Rome. And, of course, that is the point, right?
Loving and believing in Jesus is easy. Following Jesus is hard. Getting saved by faith, easy. Getting saved by trust and discipleship, hard. Letting Jesus into my heart, easy. Letting Jesus take my heart into a place of love and mercy for enemies, hard.
So do we let the bomber off? No!! Jesus is not advocating that at all. I think Jesus would be very comfortable locking him away for the rest of his natural life. I think Jesus would say we have an obligation to keep such people from roaming freely in society. The big difference is, Jesus would also call us to make sure we are loving, praying for and taking care of him while he is in prison.
He would also recommend that we understand that we too are guilty. If not murder and mayhem like this, the murder and mayhem within our hearts. In the end, that is where all sins are born and then mutate into evil actions. None of us, not one, is free of such evil desires. Jesus knows this and He wants to save us from ourselves. He knows our "righteous" anger and our demands for "justice" (justice for others, we want mercy for ourselves!) is a breeding ground for all manner of evil. In fact, the bombers' hearts were filled with just that. They thought their people were mistreated. Sad to say, they were right in some cases. Everyone is guilty of something, even us. Everyone is a victim of something, even vicious murderers like the Boston Muslim Men. In the end, this is why Jesus lays down what seems so crazy. It is our only way out. To embrace the cross and love EVERYONE like He does. That is freedom and peace. That is salvation. So I prayed today for my enemies and Jesus ruled my heart a little bit more.