Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Hosea 5:1-7, Acts 22:17-29, Luke 6:27-38
Despite Paul’s efforts to convince the Jews of Jerusalem that he too was a faithful Jew, many refused to believe him. The crowd was willing to listen as he told them the story of his conversion and encounter with Jesus, but as soon as he mentioned the Gentiles, they turned on him. Facts were irrelevant: his association with false accusations and foreigners fed the prejudices against him. Before the crowd could hurt him, Roman officials dragged him away to be interrogated by flogging. They abandoned that plan immediately when Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen by birth: flogging an uncondemned Roman carried serious penalties.
Paul’s persecution was unjust, regardless of his citizenship. We are sympathetic because we know his story, but do we understand what it says to us today? Citizenship – Roman or otherwise – is a human distinction, not a divine one. Christians are subject to nations which get to decide the civil rights of their citizens, but how we treat people – and how we advocate for the treatment of people – is not dictated by human law. We don’t abandon Christian principles about decency just because a government tells us we can – or must. To the contrary, the message of the gospel is incompatible with torture, discrimination, and other evils committed in the cause of nationalism. Mercy is not only for citizens. This is not a statement about immigration policy, but about our fundamental understanding of what it means when Jesus tells us to love our enemies.
“Enemies” aren’t simply people we fight in war; they are everyone we don’t especially want to love. Christ tells us loving those we like is nothing special – even sinners do that. We don’t have to like them, but he does instruct us to pray, feed, forgive, clothe, lend, and do good for them even when they hate and mistreat us … all the while expecting nothing in return. Difficult as it sounds, how we treat our enemies should look a lot like how we treat our friends. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God frees us from borders and obliges us to love.
Comfort: Loving our enemies gets easier with practice.
Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to love my enemies as Christ loves me. Amen.
Discussion: Whom do you find it difficult to love?
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