Love Selfishly

Today’s readings: Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Amos 8:1-14, Revelation 1:17-2:7, Matthew 23:1-12

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In the midst of adversity, we may find it difficult, almost impossible even, to practice love. Imagine being a widow or beggar during the time of Amos, when the religious leaders were “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat*” (Amos 8:6). Consider what it must have been like for the faithful of Israel when their leaders put heavy burdens on the people while never inconveniencing themselves (Matt 23:4). Why would the common people bother loving their enemies when their own leaders preached righteousness and practiced hypocrisy? Can we imagine? Or do we call that “the evening news?”

Yet in both eras (and may we assume today as well?) through his prophets and the messiah God cried for redemption through justice, mercy, and charity – the practices of agape love.

One stumbling block to practicing this type of love is the notion that the recipient should deserve it. We may understand on an intellectual level that all people are deserving because they are children of God, but part of us chafes at the idea that not only have some people not earned it, but they have squandered any right to it. Vindictive ex spouses. Violent criminals. Hate mongering racists. Duplicitous politicians. In human terms, none of these people may merit mercy, but the divine demands it.

It can seem so very unfair. But is it?

What if the command to love our enemies – foreign, domestic, and familial – isn’t just about the dignity of our enemies? What if it is also about the state of our own souls? In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche said “be careful when you fight monsters lest you become one.” Fred was no friend of Christianity, but he wasn’t wrong. When we allow feelings of fear or anger to override the convictions of our faith, and when we sacrifice those convictions of peace and love to protect our money, our homes, or even our lives, we have lost what God values most in us.

We love our enemies not only for their sake, but for our own.

Comfort: We are not burdened with determining who deserves our love.

Challenge: For an entire day, when you wish to complain about an enemy, instead say a silent prayer for them.

* When the harvest was taken, the scraps were supposed to be left in the field to be gathered – or “gleaned” – by the poor and alien in the land.

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