The Lord said, “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
This is one of if not the most difficult passages of Scripture that we face in the normal readings of the year in the Orthodox Church. Jesus clearly is telling us that we must love our enemies. He does not suggest that we do this he, dare I say, commands us to do this.
The question we need to ask is how do we know whether a person abides in God and is sincere in the Christian Faith? The answer comes from an anonymous Russian saint. “Where there is love for one’s enemies, there God also is.” We must do this as difficult as it may be we must love our enemies.
A hostile person hates because he fears you will strike him so he strikes first. The last thing that he expects from you is love, so love him. Charm and disarm I always say. Love is the only thing that can destroy hostility. We need to love our enemies because he is first of all an enemy to himself. The very fact that this person dislikes you could simply mean that he needs you. His soul is warped by his hatred of you, and you alone can warm him and free him. They simply need someone to love them. Love is the only thing capable of transforming and enemy into a friend. Returning hate only multiplies hate, only love can break the cycle of hate.
So how do we make this love possible? What are some steps that we can take?
First we have to love God. When asked what the commandments are Jesus responded with Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your souls and love your neighbor as yourself. We first need to love God so we can have the capacity to love others. We should also love ourselves! If we truly love God and know Him as our Lord and Savior then our heart will be predisposed to love others including our enemy.
Secondly we should do good those those who hate you. In the Divine Liturgy we pray for those who loves us and those who hate us. St. Paul tells the Romans to overcome evil with good. We must make the first step. We must reach out to those who hate us. Of they hit us we must offer them the other cheek. If we find that it is not working then we need to double the dose and keep working at it. Love concurs all!
Third, pray for those who persecute you. The highest privilege we can offer is to pray for someone. To offer to take their needs to God in prayer is a wonderful thing that even the oldest of us can do. Asking for prayer and then praying for someone is important and a simple example of love.
Fourth, look for some good in the person. No one is evil to the core and there is always some good in that person. Find what is good and use that to compliment the person. Again do this with love and watch what happens. People like to be complimented and what does it cost you to be charitable to someone.
The last and hardest of all is to develop the capacity to forgive. I loving your enemy is not hard enough we must also be able to forgive. In the Lord’s prayer we pray to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In order for us to be forgiven we need to be able to forgive, again not an easy thing to do. But, with God all things are possible. Through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit we can develop this capacity to forgive. Jesus would not ask this of us if we were not capable of doing it. Most times we do not forgive because we do not know how to forgive. Forgiveness begins with ourselves. We must be able to forgive ourselves then we will be able to forgive others.
Hatred is destructive and no good can come from hate. Hate comes from the evil one and we have no room for the evil one. Hatred allows the evil to take root in our soul and darken it. Use the example of Jesus on the Cross who forgave those who had just crucified Him. Father forgive them for they know not what they do!
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”