Love Our Enemies

Two weeks ago, we had General Conference with a number of moving, inspiring talks. I was particularly moved by the talk given by Elder Massimo De Feo. In it, he describes an experience with his mother who was struggling with cancer, suffering, in pain and near death. She sensed her son’s concern for her and felt prompted to ask her son if she could pray for him.

Elder De Feo describes it this way:

“As I knelt next to her bed and she prayed for me, I felt a love never felt before. It was a simple, true, pure love. Although she didn’t know about the plan of salvation, she had in her heart her personal plan of love, the plan of love of a mother for her son. She was in pain, struggling to even find the strength to pray. I could barely hear her voice, but I surely felt her love.”

Elder De Feo later goes on and says..

“Brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of love. The greatest commandment is about love. For me, it’s all about love. The love of the Father, who sacrificed His Son for us. The love of the Savior, who sacrificed all for us. The love of a mother or a father who would give anything for his or her children. The love of those who serve silently and are not known to most of us but are well known to the Lord. The love of those who forgive all and always. The love of the ones who give more than they receive.”

Brothers and sisters, I believe this should be the motivating force underlying everything we do as Christians. In fact, this is what I believe is the driving message, ministry and life of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s not a controversial principle at all. Most people recognize the importance love plays in our lives. It’s a major theme in many of our movies and popular songs. It’s a foundational principle in every religion I’m familiar with. We all have this very human need to feel loved. But with a careful study of Jesus’s life and teachings, you quickly realize just how radical his message is and how really difficult it is to apply.

Let’s think a moment about what was happening in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s life. Israel, for course, was under Roman occupation at the time. There were two general responses to this occupation. Some wanted a violent revolt against the Roman power to claim what they felt was their divine right to freedom and self rule.  They felt this was a matter of prophecy and that a God-ordained messiah would lead them. Many felt Jesus came to fulfill this role.

Others wanted to embed themselves into the power structure of the Roman empire, forming cooperative alliances. But this sort of cooperation led to corruption and a move away from God and their covenants.

Jesus proposed a third way, summarized within the two great commands – to love God – possibly as a rebuke to the second approach. We show our love for God through our commitments and covenants to the gospel. If we love God, we keep God’s commandments.

The second commandment given is to love our neighbors as ourself – which is an argument against revolt. Let me pause for a bit to really dive in to what it means to love our neighbors.

I think it means to love deeply and unconditionally those close to us. Jesus loved and served his apostles. Think of Jesus washing their feet at the last supper. In the agony of the cross, Christ remembers his mother urging John to care for her. The story of the prodigal son was a lesson of the unconditional love of a father for his son, The father never gave up hope and then quickly forgave him and welcomed him home on his return.

I think it means to care for and remember the stranger, especially those typically forgotten, those on the margins, many who are easy to forget or are passed over. The parable of the good samaritan was emblematic of this teaching. Here the samaritan noticed someone suffering, and at great inconvenience to himself went out of his way to bless and to serve. Jesus, of course, spent his life blessing the sick and giving aid and comfort to those who pressed themselves into his life.

I think it means, and this is the hardest and most radical teaching of all, to love our enemies. Hopefully none of us have enemies quite like the Romans or quite like those near Jesus who betrayed him and crucified him. But it was Jesus who in the moment of agony on the cross pled for the Father to forgive the very Roman soldiers who were in the act of torturing and crucifying him.

For us, perhaps someone in your life has left the church and you feel a sense of loss and betrayal. The other day, I had someone yell an expletive at me because I didn’t get out of his way quick enough on a bike path. We all have run-ins with others and in the moment of tension, nearly anyone in that moment might be seen as an enemy. It’s at those moments, we should try to remember to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”

Let us not forget to include ourselves in the list of people we should love. Meaning, we should be sure to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, heal ourselves when we are suffering and in pain. And often times that might mean reaching out to others who might help us do just that.

This is difficult, difficult stuff. It’s been a life-long struggle for me.

I have a natural propensity for anxiety. I’m also an introvert. And just being a human being in a difficult world, I’ve been concerned with finding a footing in it – in terms of building a family and a career. There’s all kinds of reasons to be concerned with my own needs and concerns and not as aware of the needs and concerns of others around me.

I kind of approached my mission this way. I viewed it as a self-improvement opportunity. I knew I had serious gaps in my life. I saw the growth many people  returning home from their missions experienced and I desired that same opportunity. And my mission was great. I grew a lot. But about half way through it, I had this feeling that things weren’t quite right. I was working hard, trying to obey the mission rules. But still I felt like things weren’t where they should be. With these thoughts in my mind, one morning, in my scripture study, I was reading the Book of Mormon and I happened to be reading Moroni 7. Which is a rather remarkable chapter considering the cataclysmic war they were experiencing. It’s a chapter where Moroni was reciting teachings of his father Mormon.  Verse 45 is emblematic:

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

But I knew this this chapter was coming. I loved it, but the message didn’t fully sink in.

That same morning I picked up the New Testament and I happened to be on 1 Corinthians 13.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew at that moment I needed to do a better job loving the people I was working with.

Because that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is about. It’s all about love. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.