People Who Are Not Like Us
Seventh Sunday After Advent—Year C
February 24, 2019
Before we jump in to today’s sermon, I need to check something. I think there’s a problem with how the Gospel’s printed. I think we’re missing a qualifier in there, maybe an asterisk, or a parenthetical statement. Let me just double-check it.
OK, here it is. “Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies”
Right there, that’s where we’re missing the qualifier that says “love your enemies” except the people who are mean to me. Like that kid in 7th grade who called me names on the bus and made me cry. I don’t have to love…OK, there’s no qualifier.
Hmmm…. maybe I just missed the asterisk. “Love you enemies,” except those whose views on the world and others are so abhorrent to you that it makes your blood boil. Surely I don’t have to love them, so there’s the asterisk…except there’s no asterisk.
Well, then obviously I’m missing the footnote. The numbers indicating a footnote can be so tiny. There must be a footnote, “Love your enemies” except those who have committed horrendous acts of evil. Let me just take a minute and find it, get the actual language…there’s no footnote.
There’s not qualifier, no asterisk, no footnote—just, “love your enemies.”
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
The magnitude of what Jesus calls us to is staggering. “Love your enemies” –love those who hurt you, who make you mad, who make you cry. Love your enemies.
The temptation, once we hear Jesus’ call to love, is to jump straight to the question of “how?”
“OK, Jesus, how exactly to you want me to do that? Can you just give me a list of a few things, I can do that will count as “loving my enemies?” I’ll do my best to check them off the list—but, really, did you hear what that person said yesterday? Or did you see their last tweet! How am I supposed to “love” them?”
And therein lies the problem. When we attempt to jump straight to the “how” of loving our enemies, we miss out on the most critical part—the part Jesus is actually trying to get us to see—the “why.”
Why are we instructed to love those who hurt us? Who make us mad? Who make us cry?
We’re instructed to love, because “people who are not like us are still people—like us.”
Those words are likely familiar to many of you. I say them as part of my blessing at the end of the service. “As we go forth into the world to love as Christ loves us let us never forget that people who are not like us are still people—like us.
The words of this blessing are drawn from a prayer offered by Rabbi Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, before the US Senate in November of 2011. It begins,
“Sovereign of the universe, Who created all in love, Teach us to love all that is good and beautiful in this world. Teach us to honour the dignity of difference, recognizing that one who is not in our image Is none the less in Your image; never forgetting that the people not like us, Are still people – like us.”[i]
Why are we instructed to “love our enemies?” Because they are like us. They too, are human, like us. They too, are created in the image of God, like us. They too, are children of God, like us.
In the midst of contentious times it can feel impossible to love those who hurt us, who make us mad, or who make us cry. But when we chose to turn away from the way of love, we deny the full humanity of those we disagree with. We deny the full humanity of those who are not like us—and those who are.
One of the misconceptions about “loving our enemy” is that, by doing so, we are giving tacit approval to the way in which they have wounded us or others—but that is simply not the case. Just as we are called to “love our enemy” we are called to stand against injustice—but our enemy is not the person. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave voice to this distinction,
“When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”[ii]
We are all caught up in evil and unjust systems, and the only way out is love.
Choosing the way of love, unsurprisingly, begins with prayer and self-reflection. Who is my anger keeping me from loving? What does it look like to see the full humanity of that person, to see them as they truly are—a beloved child of God? What does it look like for me to see the unjust system as the enemy, and not the person who, like me, is caught up in it?
As we reflect, we turn to God and ask for the wisdom and courage to face these questions and our own hesitancy, trusting that the way of forward is the way of love.
Perhaps our prayer can sound something like this,
God, I want to love others as you love me, help me in my struggle to love. Give me the eyes to see the full humanity of those whom I would call enemy. Help me see the deep pain of those who have hurt me and others and know they too are hurting. Help me to see the fear driving those who whose words make my blood boil, and know they too are afraid. Help me to see the pain of those who make me cry, and know they too are weeping. God help me to love as you love, knowing that people who are not like me are still people—like me.
[i] Sacks, Jonathan. Invocation Prayer. http://rabbisacks.org/invocation-prayer-prayer-delivered-in-the-united-states-senate/
[ii] King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol04Scans/315_17-Nov-1957_Loving%20Your%20Enemies.pdf