Enemies to Love: Lenten Meditation, 3/24/2013

Luke 19:28-40
March 24, 2013

“After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28)

The “this” that Jesus said, before he went on ahead, up to Jerusalem, is the familiar parable of the talents, which ends with the nobleman’s ominous lines: “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence” (Luke 19:26-27).

The connection between these earlier words and today’s reading swells with an unresolved tension. Plainly, the nobleman’s words do not prepare us to see the heralded, new king slaughtered. But God’s rejection of the evil wrought by “these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them” lands squarely on Jesus.

Palm Sunday reveals Jesus as, at the same time, God’s elected and rejected one. This is meant to be Good News for us, but it is still hard to see Jesus slaughtered in the presence of God and God’s enemies. Harder still to hear the words on our lips – “Crucify him!” – and realize that we are God’s enemies, the ones “who did not want me to be king over them.”

I do not like to think of myself as an enemy of God, but my not liking it does not by itself make it untrue. I am like the double agent who sometimes forgets whose side she is on. But I have found grace in Jesus’ hard words to his disciples, “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27).

“Love your enemies” is what we do when we imitate God’s love for us.

Admittedly, I need God’s help to love my enemies. I pray that knowing I need God’s help to love my enemies makes me less of an enemy to God, but who can tell for sure if that is not the double agent talking?

I used to think of an enemy as the worst thing a person could be, but enemy status has not proved enough to keep God from us, and our being found in Christ. Instead, love without expectation or personal gain is arguably known only with the help of enemies to love. So I have learned to ask for God’s help in loving my enemies, and also to pray for more enemies to love.

Maybe loving enemies is how we go up, with Jesus, to Jerusalem. Maybe this is a piece of the surrender, the sacrifice, by which we learn the friendship of the crucified King.

A prayer for today:

God of the cross, sear these words of your Son on the hearts of your people, so we may live the love by which you have called us friends: “…love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Amen.