Luther on Loving Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV)

While writing on Jesus’ words from John 6 about judging by external appearances, Luther writes the following very poignant words describing the contrast between Christian attitudes and those of the the world:

No one views his neighbor with clear eyes except the Christian, whose sight is bright and pure. He looks upon his enemies with the eyes of mercy and compassion, and wishes them no evil. Even when his enemy is wroth and angry with him, he thinks to himself: “This bigwig is a wretched person; he is damned already; why should I wish him further evil? If my enemy continues on that course, he is the devil’s own.” He feels compassion for him and would gladly see him saved. The others behold their neighbor with eyes of hatred, envy, and pride. Thus they look upon us as malefactors. About this the Lord says: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment; that is, look fairly at My work and at Me.” (LW 23:240)

Jesus speaks many words about compassion for our enemies, seeing others as God sees them, and loving others in spite of themselves.  None of these passages is easy to live out in the world, at least not for me…and I doubt completely that I am alone here.  As if Jesus words weren’t powerful enough, Luther’s explanation really socked me in my oft compassionless gut.  “This bigwig is a wretches person; he is damned already; why should I wish him further evil?”  Oh how I wish this were my first reaction to folks of this type, but too often my flesh kicks in and I react in a manner belying my confession!  All I can do is cry out those words I so often hear myself say…

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

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