How much should you respect your enemy

Göttingen sermons

Göttingen Sermons on the Internet ed. by U. Nembach

Sermon for Matthew 5: 43-48, written by Leise Christensen


Sometimes I can get the thought that it is actually a shame that we get to hear these essential texts from the core of the Christian faith at the beginning of the Trinity of all times. Last week we had the parable of the prodigal son, the week before that we had the demand for discipleship, next week it is Peter's confession, and so today it is the texts on love for neighbor and enemy. It can hardly get any more essential. But we should hear these fantastic texts in the middle of summer when people are on vacation or in our own garden or on the beach. This thought should not prevent us from taking a closer look at the texts for today.

For some people, the commandment to love one's neighbor is the most important thing in the Christian faith. If you asked any passers-by on the street what is characteristic of Christianity, I think many people, perhaps most of them, would answer that charity is the most essential thing. "You should love your neighbor as yourself." But as we heard in the text from the OT that I have just read out loud, this commandment is by no means reserved for Christianity alone Commandment that widows, orphans and strangers should be taken care of. These three groups were the most defenseless in Israelite society, and therefore God in OT requires that they be cared for. So these groups are, in another word Said, the weakest in society. A corresponding commandment to love one's neighbor can actually be found in most religions. So one can in no way say that Jesus invents it here and now as something uniquely ingenious and new. No, the commandment charity is nothing special in Christianity.

The sequel is special, however: You should love your enemy, yes, you should even pray for him. That is much more difficult to follow. Because we can love our neighbor if need be - our spouse, our children, neighbors, work colleagues and compatriots; but our enemies? Does that really mean that you should come to terms with everything and let yourself be stepped on? Does that really mean that the old saying that "everyone's friend is everyone's fool" is no longer valid - that one can no longer say no when one thinks enough is enough? Should one always turn the other cheek? According to Jesus - Should we love al-Assad, and should we love the Taliban? Yes, we should! Should the journalists of "Ekstra Bladet" love those who hate them professionally? Yes, they should! And we should too. At least that's what the Lord says. And we should pray for them on top of that.

Some of the most important days since 2008 are happening now, at least for football enthusiasts. You are sitting in front of the television in awe, and I'm sure you look up at several players on both teams who make the crosses when they walk out onto the pitch or at kick-off. And certainly some players have prayed to God even before they laced up their football boots and pushed their shin guards into their stockings. And have the players prayed to God that their opponents, the football enemies, might win? Barely. Not at all, they prayed that they would become European champions themselves and, in the end, triumphantly throw up their arms in a true rush of victory. But shouldn't they instead pray for the football enemies? Certainly they should - according to Jesus. Now it can be completely indifferent whether Spain or Germany becomes European champion - now that Denmark has been eliminated - although there are also large sums of money in the swamp. The example can illustrate how difficult it is to pray for one's enemy. If you can't even pray for your opponents in a soccer game, how can you do that in war, jealousy, and other hateful relationships? Is it even possible to have feelings on command, may they be hateful or love? Can one hate or love on command or be completely without any emotional involvement? You can't do it. And we know that. Many marriages could have been saved if they could.

Nowadays we tend to put feelings on everything. You have to feel love or hate. You don't get married unless you have a whole host of immensely deep and deep and warm and embracing feelings for one another. Feelings, secure feelings and intuition, the innermost, deepest and personal have got colossal significance for our decisions, and if you do not feel love for your enemy, yes, then you cannot love him, you cannot otherwise hate him, and then wish one to him misfortune. That's how it feels! Both love and hate are feelings, and we have no power or control over feelings. We know it, we feel it, and we act on it. But actually it's not what Jesus is asking for. He does not ask of us deep love for our enemies. It does not require love as a feeling, but love as an attitude towards life, as an attitude that one has towards life and towards the people we meet. The love that is required of us is not a feeling, rather it is an attitude that requires us to act. We are so fond of big beautiful words, big feelings, but love that is not expressed in action is nothing.

One could think of a poem by Benny Andersen that speaks of being good, of love. He names all of the things he does to love and be good, but he has found that it takes a lot of practice. And so he practices. All to yourself. And finally, through daily practice, there in his solitude, he succeeds in being good for a full hour. Like Benny Andersen, we have to say that it is difficult to be good, especially towards other people. That doesn't happen by itself. It includes will, action, faith, hope, responsibility, care and respect - all the things that make up the essence of love, because otherwise there would be no talk of love in the biblical sense. These are the things we must strive for in order to embrace the enemy as well. Perhaps not exactly as a friend, but still as a god-created person on the same level as we, as a person who has every right to be himself because he or she is willed by God.

The text of the gospel of today is not an order: please love your enemy! No, it's just a gospel, good news: today's text is an invitation to see life from a different perspective than from the eternal perspective of strife, quarrel and enmity, in which we human beings incessantly do things see. It is an invitation to see life from the side of love, from the side of God. It is an invitation to live in the world of God, which was created in love, out of love, for love. That is love of the obligatory, acting kind.

Today's text is not a judgment against people, not a judgment that should hold us down on earth because we are unable to love our neighbor, let alone our enemy. Rather, it is a reminder that we should live our lives with respect for the fact that God created both myself and my neighbor as well as my enemy in his image. And I must not deny my enemy the image of God by talking to him and acting as if he were not a child of God. The fact that we are both children of God, my enemy like me, obliges us to act in the world that respects precisely this fact. And that also means that when we hunt for the evil in our enemy, we must look to ourselves first.

Because if we have nothing in common with the person we consider our enemy, we still have it all the time one common, namely malice. In this way, the battle between evil and good does not take place between my enemy and me, but between evil and good within me. Jesus' word that we should love our enemies is an offer to see the world, our fellow human beings and our own leen from a different perspective, namely from the perspective of the love in which we are to live according to the will of God.



Translation from Danish: Dietrich Harbsmeier


Lector Leise Christensen
DK-6240 Løgumkloster

Email: [email protected]