Let’s begin this article by asking two simple questions in order to gain an idea of where we are at in our understanding of the spiritual life.
Question 1: In your entire life, have you ever missed the mark of the spiritual life at least once, and been guilty of a sin?
Question 2: In your entire life, were you ever guilty of something that you would consider was pure evil?
One of the distinguishing images of the Orthodox Church has always been that the Church is not a court room where the guilty are sentenced and condemned, but rather a true hospital for sinners. This is why we are here. This is also why we should have answered question number one with a resounding “Yes!” And if we didn’t, then we should have, because not answering “Yes” to that question is a sin within itself.
The world has been infested with this disease of the soul that infects and affects everyone to varying degrees. It is the Church, this hospital for sinners, where we come to not only treat the disease, but to learn how to recognize it and avoid it in the future.
The second question I asked was not a trick question, but rather one that should shed some light on how we can possibly do the Savior’s command in the Gospel today (Luke 6:31-36). If we are clairvoyant enough to see that we all have sinned, then we also need to see and understand that anytime we turn our back to God, we participate in something that is pure evil.
That word for some of us can seem a little harsh. Evil is a word that we typically only use when talking about the “most heinous” of sins, like murder or adultery. But it is important for us to remember that every time we do not walk the path towards Christ, we participate in something evil. Even the smallest of diseases like cheating on a geometry exam can ultimately lead to something greater. It is so important for us to root out all of the evil in our lives, regardless of how minor it seems.
The gospel reading today was very short and to the point. Our Lord speaks to us today by giving us that Golden Rule which each and every one of us, God willing, was brought up with in our own household: “Do unto others, as you would want them to do unto you.” While this is a normal Christian response to evil for us to hear, it was completely backwards to those Jews who first heard it! “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” was the teaching of the old law—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But here is God coming down and telling us that the ultimate medicine for the evil of sin that affects the hearts of all mankind is to love. Love our parents, love our children, love our neighbors, but most importantly, our Lord emphasizes loving our enemies.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is often the medications that help us the most which are the most bitter to swallow. We say that loving our enemies is completely impossible. Yet it was God—who intimately knows the hearts of mankind, who knows us better than we can possibly know ourselves—that tells us this morning that it is possible to love our enemies, and it is necessary to combat the darkness of our lives.
One of the ways that the Fathers and Mothers of the Church speak on loving our enemies is to constantly look to our own spiritual failings. I asked us those two difficult questions to remind us that we too have moments in our own lives where we are just as evil as our enemies. We all succumb to passions of anger, hate, jealousy, avarice, lust, and pride. These passions (especially in the moment) jump off of our hearts to infect the world and those around us. This is why days like forgiveness Sunday, the first day of Great Lent, are so vitally important for us. We spend that day remembering and reflecting on the evil that sometimes enters into our hearts, and immediately after, go out and ask forgiveness from each other for the known and unknown effects that we had on others.
Is loving our enemies a hard thing to do? Yes. Have you ever thought of the reason why? It is because there is something that is within us that corrupts our souls and causes our minds to protest. There is a darkness in all of us which makes our gut reaction to be one of blood and vengeance towards those who wrong us. This is what evil looks like. This is what sickness feels like. Our Lord gives us this morning the prescription: Love Your Enemies, do good, lend and expect nothing in return, pray for them and expect nothing in return.
The life lesson that our Lord wanted us to hear this morning was not just empty words. He went on to show the entire world what example we should follow by His actions on the cross. Beaten, tortured, and humiliated, our Lord hung in the air crucified and suffering. In his final words to us He didn’t command the heavenly hosts to come down and avenge Him. He looked up into the sky to the Father, and out of Love for His creation He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is our response to evil. This is the love which acts as a shining light to dispel darkness. May we all, through our daily example, reciprocate that love which our Lord showed us on the Cross, by concentrating on our own spiritual diseases, and all the while forgiving our enemies of theirs. Amen.