Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD

Series 2002 - March

"Love your enemies," said Jesus."


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican


"Love your enemies," said Jesus. In Lent, we approach Golgotha and the Cross gradually.

But even the slow pace of Lent puts us at a disadvantage.  And the disadvantage is that we know what’s coming.  The story is sufficiently familiar to us.  It is increasingly more difficult to discover what it is that Jesus revealed to his followers then.  It makes it hard to see what he’s revealing to his followers now.

I’m not suggesting anything secretive.  It’s just that the whole story has been placed before us all at once, it seems.  We see the entire picture and forget that one day followed another.  We may be selective in our reading, some of us; and there are few of us that think for a moment there’s anything left for us to learn.

The disciples had the advantage of living out the story.  Even as they were part of the story, they still didn’t know the outcome, so fresh it was to them.  Reflection and integration was necessary for them to fully grasp what Jesus shared with them as they lived out their lives with him.

The gospels provide us with a variety of accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Evangelists saw Jesus in a revelatory light that characterizes their respective accounts.  For their differences, there remains a common thread.  Successive generations recognize Jesus who was drawn inexorably toward Jerusalem and a Hill outside a City Wall and a death seen by some as punishment, by others as failure, and by disciples as sacrifice.

Jesus’ teaching, the record of his words and actions gradually built on a foundation began in the shallows of the Jordan.  His invitation to join him opened the succeeding weeks and months and seasons to men and women who by their response grew closer to Jesus.  Their growth was slow and intimate.  The daily exchange between rabbi and disciple, the questions and answers, nourished and encouraged eager hearts and minds.  They shared in a spiritual journey that followed their master to an Upper Room, to a dark and secluded Garden and ultimately, at a distance, to a Cross. 

The day came when one of the followers – it might have been Philip or perhaps Judas, or possibly another  – broached the subject: enemies – everyone has them; what are we to do with our enemies, Jesus?  The response of Pharisees to Jesus’ teaching had not been lost on them.  Anger had been building.  Anger, fed by jealousy and fear, had been voiced by the murmurings and whispers of enemies in public places.  The disciples took note of it.  And in private they would have asked Jesus what they needed to do.

“Love you enemies,” Jesus had replied.

That’s not the answer they expected.  It’s not the answer they wanted.  Struck speechless, disciples down through the ages have never been comfortable with Jesus’ injunction to love our enemies.  It was unheard of.  It was unreasonable.  It was unfair!  There was no echo of Torah in this simple directive.  Later generations, with a wider world-view would discover that the Koran remained silent as well.  The Buddha never called his followers to love their enemies. 

Jesus alone calls upon his followers to love their enemies.  It makes Jesus and those that share faith in him unique.

And they were to discover that he was serious.  It had to have generated a debate among his disciples.  It does today! The questions raised would have sounded much like those we voice when challenged to do the same.  The evangelists didn’t have to write the questions down.  We’ve heard them already.  We’ve asked them ourselves.

And as for Jesus’ answer?  Unfaltering, it remained the same.  “Love your enemies,” Jesus said.

Jesus rebutted each argument with the consistency of a set pace that led him to a Hill – we know it as Golgotha.  Had the disciples caught his meaning?  Jesus was unambiguous in his instruction, and unwavering as well.  He did not explain himself - he didn’t need to.  Any explanation they might have given would have been seen as an attempt to explain Jesus’ intention away.

On the contrary, the Eleven demonstrated for the myriads of followers who were to come how clearly they did understand Jesus.  Peter had put his sword away.  And later, although an Innocent was taken down from a Cross and reverentially placed in a Tomb, in Jerusalem there were no reprisals.  That day, or even the next day.  Revenge was harboured neither in heart or mind.  For that we know that Jesus was true and his disciples were obedient.

So Good Friday is transformed into the joy and celebration of Easter.  Anger, discomfort and fear are redeemed; and we are made whole.

Copyright © 2002 James T. Irvine

Series 2002

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton