Is there someone you love?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, is there someone you most assuredly do not love?
If you are fortunate, you thought of somebody specific when I asked the first question. If you are human, you probably thought of somebody when I asked the second.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers to his disciples a lesson on how to spread the word to others. More importantly, he gives them… and us… a lesson on how to actually live. He issues a new commandment. A commandment to love.
Jesus talked about this a lot during his lifetime. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising or insightful for me to repeat that message here today. But I would like to ask you to think about what it means to love someone. And to consider the fact that some people are easier to love than others. There are those we will naturally and effortlessly love, like perhaps members of our family. For others, it’s much harder.
Some are easy to love. Others are harder.
Like our enemies. Our enemies are hard to love.
Do you have any enemies? I’m not really sure I do… because when I think of the word “enemy”, I think about an army coming up over the hill to attack, villains who stop at nothing to get their way, a malevolent arch nemesis who looks to disrupt and create chaos. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t completely resonate with me. Fortunately, I don’t have anybody like that in my life… right now.
But put another way, has anyone ever hurt you? I think most of us can answer yes to that question. I know that I can.
When I think about Jesus asking us to love our enemy, I believe he is asking us to love someone who has hurt us. But you can’t love someone who hurt you until you can forgive them first.
My son sent me something from Thich Nhat Hanh this past week just as I was contemplating Jesus’ message of love in this Gospel. It turns out that Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, was also contemplating Jesus’ message of love when he wrote the following: “You, my brother or sister have wronged me in the past. I now understand that it was because you were suffering and did not see clearly.” And: “You cannot force yourself to forgive. Only when you understand what has happened can you have compassion for the other person and forgive him or her.”
In other words, those who hurt others are themselves hurting. This doesn’t excuse their actions. This doesn’t mean that we can simply or easily forget what they have done to us. But understanding that they are in pain themselves can help us to feel some compassion for them. Compassion can lead to forgiveness… which then, and only then, can put us on the path toward love.
Jesus wanted this for all those who encountered his disciples. And he wanted this for his disciples themselves. According to Jesus, this is how we identify ourselves as his followers.
Has someone hurt you? Made you suffer? Perhaps it is that person’s own suffering that prompted their actions, their words, their neglect, their disregard, their indifference, and all of the pain they have caused.
Jesus asks us to lead with love. And in doing this, to show that we are his disciples.
Through our love, not only can we help bring others to him… we can also find our own peace and healing.
Through our love, we can find our own peace and healing.
How can we know this is true?
Because he finds all of us, you and I, no matter who we are or what we have ever done, easy to forgive, easy to love.