The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (6:31-36)
“As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” These are the first words that we hear today from our Lord Jesus Christ. They are life giving words. The teachings of Our Lord are quite revolutionary and they stand in stark contrast to the fallenness of the world around us. In our world we follow the ideas of a world based on survival such as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are kind to those who are kind to us and we hate those who hate us. But Our Lord seems to teach words that are incomprehensible to our earthly minds. He constantly kneads and forms the clay of our hearts in order to make beautiful and heavenly vessels. Vessels that are worthy to contain His word and to contain Him.
Our Lord Jesus connects us to every other human being and reminds us of how we are to treat others. It is not only the person who is kind to you or lends you money that is created in the image of God. The person who is cruel to you or owes you money is also created in His image. He received his life from God his creator just as you have received yours.
Before we can find any wiggle room, any space through which to escape and mistreat others, even when it might seem completely justified, our Lord gives yet another truly earth-shattering teaching when He says “love your enemies and do good.” It boggles our minds why we should have to be so good. Why should we have to go above and beyond in our love towards others? Yet, the reason is rather straightforward, because we first received unconditional love from God. In Romans 5:8 the apostle Paul writes “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He did not wait for us to be holy, He died to make us holy. He did not wait for us to be good. He died to show us His goodness and impart this goodness to us. He did not wait until we became loving, but rather loved us to the point of death and thereby poured out His life and love upon us and upon all of creation. When God teaches you listen. When the incarnate God Himself lives this life and demonstrates these hard teachings, He shows us that it is not only possible but necessary for us to embrace them in order to become His people, the household of God, or as He says in today’s reading “you will be sons of the Most High”. He shows us that this is the way and that He has paved this way for us. He is not commanding us to do something that has never been done. He has done it in order to show us the royal path.
What kind of radical love is this? It is the love that allows us to care for those who despise us and to pray for and desire the best for those who do not desire the best for us. Even those who try to use and abuse us. Even love for those who try to hurt us or possibly take our lives because we realize that this isn’t our kingdom and we will even receive a new body at the appointed time. We have to see everything through the lens of the crucified and risen Lord. We have to judge reality on the basis of the fact of the resurrection. This allows us to see everything correctly.
St. Silouan of Mt. Athos spoke often about love of ones enemies. For him this was the infallible criterion of a true Christian. He wrote “I ask you to try something. If someone grieves you, or dishonors you, or takes something of yours, then pray like this: “Lord, we are all your creatures. Pity your servants, and turn them to repentance,” and then you will perceptibly bear grace in your soul. Induce your heart to love your enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, shall help you in all things, and will Himself show you experience. But whoever thinks evil of his enemies does not have love for God and has not known God.”
Our Christian life is a movement that starts from knowledge about God and moves to knowing God intimately. St. Silouan who lived and experienced this grace understood that the way to unlock this most important relationship and the goal of our whole lives is to remove all the obstacles in our hearts. The chiefest of these obstacles is hatred or enmity with anyone at all, especially those who have treated us most poorly.
St. Maximos the confessor tells us that there is a path to growing in love and knowing God. He writes “He who has genuinely renounced worldly things, and lovingly and sincerely serves his neighbor, is soon set free from every passion and made a partaker of God’s love and knowledge.” So we don’t start in reverse. We don’t wait until we are loving people and then serve others. We serve others first with the knowledge that such service softens and prepares our hearts to make room for Christ.
It is easy to love when others love us. But it is so difficult to love when others are hostile towards us or seek to hurt us. Yet God loves all of His creation even those who hated Him. Christ demonstrated this from the cross on the day in which He was crucified and asked His Father to forgive those who had persecuted Him. That is radical love. You and I are called to this love, nothing less. We choose to accept this invitation and embrace this love because this Love first chose and embraced us. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.