Loving Our Enemies

Epiphany 7 Friday

Matthew 5:44

“But I tell you: Love your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you; pray for those who insult and persecute you.”

Look, what a lofty goal Christ establishes, so that he not only rebukes those who inflict evil on the enemies, but also does not let those be good who omit doing good to them if they need it. For he says, first, “Love your enemies.” But to love means to have a good heart and to wish only good on everyone, being friendly, kind, and sweet toward all, not laughing about someone’s harm or misfortune. Likewise, he also wants love to express itself in words, as he says, “Bless those who curse you,” so that we do not even utter a bad word against them, even when they scold, slander, disgrace, and curse us, but instead speak well of them and wish them well. From here comes the fine Christian expression some good people use when they hear that someone treated them unjustly or played a dirty trick on them. Then these people say: “May God forgive him,” as if sadly and out of compassion as those who desire nothing more than that their enemy’s misdeed would not hurt the enemy before God. This is what it means to demonstrate a good tongue against the evil tongues of others so that both mouth and heart may show nothing but love. Then, third, he wants us to demonstrate such love also by actions by all kinds of demonstrations of friendship and goodwill, saying, “Do good to those who hate you.” This, however, is a very rare virtue and such a teaching that does not serve any purpose before the world. In fact, it is completely impossible for our human nature to give and pour out nothing but good in return for all kinds of evil things and not to be overcome by any evil nor shameful ingratitude, but to overcome and restrain what is evil by the good, as St. Paul says, Romans 12:21. This is why Christ conditioned being his student and going to heaven on having a different, a better righteousness than the Pharisees and Jewish saints. The fourth part, “Pray for those who insult and persecute you,” applies more to our doctrine and faith than to our person and life. For they persecute us because of God’s Word: They want to be in the right and we should be in the wrong. Here we should pray and commend the cause to God because we find no vindication or judge on earth. And since we see that they persecute us–assaulting not just us, but God himself, and interfering with his government, thereby inflicting the greatest harm on themselves, having fallen into God’s wrath and judgment–we should all the more have mercy on them and pray for them so that they might come out of their blindness and horrible judgment. For no one can hurt us unless he has first inflicted much hurt on a greater Lord, namely, the high Majesty in heaven. Yet let us once more keep this teaching apart from the office so that it may not hinder it. In this way, we should distinguish the teaching that applies to every person in general and the teaching that applies to those who hold a secular or spiritual office that has its own peculiar work in that it must punish and resist what is evil. Therefore, even though
Christians are merciful for themselves, law and punishment also must be done as works of their office…Now, those who have such office to punish, scold, etc., let them exercise their office. But outside this office, let all embrace this teaching: Do not scold or curse, but only wish and demonstrate everything that is good. In this way, push aside the inflicting of punishment, commending it to those who have the office to inflict it.

St. Louis ed., 7:482-484.

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