PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you… So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
-Matthew 5:43-44, 48
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer every time I hear this passage of Jesus urging me to do the “impossible” – to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me – in reality, to be perfect. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes, was a Lutheran minister and theologian with passionate faith and incredible resolve. He was a leader of the Confessing Church in Germany during World War II, and he continued to speak against hatred and for love until he was executed by the Nazi regime in 1945. His words and actions continue to inspire me and others to follow God, knowing that he will take you to places and situations you never thought you would or could go, even loving those who seek to harm you and others. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer highlights the sacrificial love Jesus asks of us in today’s Gospel; the love needed to transform us and our world:
“The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into the community with the crucified. The more we are driven along this road, the more certain is the victory of love over the enemy’s hatred. For them it is not the disciple’s own love, but the love of Jesus Christ alone, who for the sake of his enemies went to the cross and prayed for them as he hung there. In the face of the cross the disciples realized that they too were his enemies and that he had overcome them by his love. It is this that opens the disciples’ eyes and enables them to see their enemy as a brother or sister. They know that they owe their very life to the One who, though he was their enemy, accepted them, who made them his neighbors, and drew them into community with himself. The disciples can now perceive that even their enemies are the object of God’s love, and that they stand themselves beneath the cross of Christ.” (319)Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew firsthand the cost of being a disciple of Christ, of loving to the point of death. Bonhoeffer did so because he knew this perfect love of God was the only thing that could transform the otherwise hopeless situation in which he and Germany found themselves. This is the way of the cross that we are called to during the season of Lent – to allow the self-sacrificial love of Christ to work in and through us in order to manifest more fully the Church and human family that God desires. So when we ask for forgiveness this Lent or for the strength to complete our Lenten tasks, let us remember that we too are “enemies” of Christ at some point, choosing that which is only self-serving and self-gratifying. We too need the love and grace of Christ to be who we are created to be – beings made by and for love. May the Spirit of Christ grant us the understanding and fortitude to love our enemies as Christ loved us from upon the cross.
Erin Schmidt is the Liturgy Coordinator in the Department of Campus Ministry.