Blessings, Curses, and Keeping Your Enemies Close
All Saints’ Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Jesus offers his blessings today. He says blessed are the poor, and the hungry. Blessed are you who weep. We do not need to unveil to whom Jesus is giving these blessings. These blessings may go to the majority of the people in the world. Yet for those of us, who are more secure in life, or those who are not persecuted, this passage seems to be rather condemning. “But woe to you who are rich,” full, or laughing. Woe to you when all speak well of you.
We tend to see this passage as being about some people being blessed while others are cursed. And while this is the way our very accurate and formal translation reads, it may not be the best light in which to look at this passage. It misses some of the nuance and cultural context that can be brought in.
Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian minister, understood this. He rewrote the Bible in a way that would make sense to people of diverse backgrounds or those who do not have a college education. This paraphrase of the Bible is called The Message. Though I would not use The Message as my primary biblical source, there are times when common language with colloquial idioms sheds a better light on the passage. Listen to this passage again and see how different it may make you feel.
Then Jesus spoke:
"You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.
“Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get.
And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more payback. Live generously.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!""
I find the tone of this language helpful, in that Christ didn’t intend this passage to be a blessing and curse situation. The meaning is that you can find blessings in the hardest of times. And if life is good for you, you should watch out for the trappings of the world. Power, influence, and money can be a slippery slope to spiritual destruction. After this list of blessings and woes, Christ gives us a life map to follow. “Love your enemies.”
When thinking of what an enemy is, we often go to the extreme. We think of someone trying to do us physical harm or someone who is trying to damage our reputation. We may even think of people who are a bit hostile toward us. The Latin root of the word enemy means not amiable or unfriendly. It is probably true that few of us have people who are outright trying to harm us. Though, most of us probably know people with whom we are not amiable or those who rub us the wrong way.
To quote Michael Corleone, the fictional mob boss from the Godfather, Michael says, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
We often think of this as a piece of shallow advice in which we are to keep our enemies close so that it will be easier for us to know what they are up to or possibly attack them before they attack us. Though I am sure that Jesus would not condone this advice with this intent I wonder if he would condone the advice if it had a more generous nature. The actual intent of this advice was offered so you could keep the people whom you disagree with within your sights. It is a way in which we can learn from the people who we disagree with. And yes, it may also be a helpful strategy in knowing their motives.
By keeping them close, we are also allowed to have fellowship with them. It will build your character and strengthen who you are. Having our enemies close to us means it will be easier for us to do good toward them. We will see them more as humans and less as the other. This makes following Christ’s decree much easier. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you. Now unlike Michael Corleone, Christ tells us, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Jesus continues saying if someone wants something from you illegitimately, give them even more. Giving people the things that they do not rightly deserve for it will shame them. Even if we do not see the shame the shame will still be upon them nonetheless.
Living into these words of Christ is what separates the saints from the rest of us. People who live their lives in such a way have been thought of as greater than the rest. And it is obvious why. For each of us knows how difficult it is to live our lives in a way that exemplifies Christ to the fullest.
The Episcopal Church has a few lists of saints. There is a short list of Saints who are given their own Major feasts days, such as St. Stephen, St. James, and St. Mary – the mother of Jesus. These people have known Christ and through tradition have shown to be examples of Christian living. Then we have a long list of other Saints more commonly called Holy Women and Men. This list includes early church fathers, theologians, as well as people who continue to influence us today, even though they may have died long ago. This list includes modern examples such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These saints have brought particular insight to the faith even though, in a very real way, they are not vastly different from you and me. These people found a way to live their lives in Christ and within their community beyond. Even though they are not perfect and have many flaws, we see them as exemplars of a faithful life. We commemorate saints such as these, along with an untold number whose names were not recorded in history, on All Saints Day.
Once we get beyond these saints of Major feasts and optional observances, we are left with the rest of us who visibly struggle with living out our faith. We know, as do the people around us, that we are not always living our lives in Christ to the best of our abilities. This group of small “s” saints, who are just like you and me. We hold up these saints who have died. We hold up hope that through all of their flaws and by the grace of God and Christ, they will receive their heavenly reward of eternal life. A life where there will no longer be death or morning, crying or pain. These are the people whom we normally commemorate on November 2nd, All Souls Day. A day that is not observed by many anymore.
To be honest, we, as a nation and as individuals, do not attend church as much as we used to. Not many of us would go to church on Sunday; then again on Tuesday for All Saints, on Wednesday for All Souls, and return on Sunday once again. Because of this and the importance of All Saints Day, we are allowed to move All Saints Day to the following Sunday, which we have done here today.
I also believe it is because there are so many of us who struggle with our faith, and we know our loved ones who proceeded us in death and the struggles they faced, that we do not want to miss the opportunity to commemorate them as well. And because of this, we have the desire to combine the lesser feast of All Souls Day with the principal feast of All Saint Day.
Through this dual observance, we hold up the promise that Jesus Christ gives us, in which, through Him and our repentance and amendment of life, we will also be resurrected on the last day. After our death, we will join the entire body of Christian people who have died before us and become members of the great communion of saints.
We are part of this group. We are called to live our lives in a way that models Christ; in a way that lets our gifts shine like those better-known saints. We are to be bold and courageous as we go forth into a broken and difficult world, so that even if we are not the poor or the hungry, the abused or the ones who weep, we can still be a blessing to all. We can love our enemies. We can stand up against those who are not amiable to us and know that what they do or says does not change who we are. For we are Christians. And through our faith in Christ, we are children of God, acceptable in His sight.