Love your enemies

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50; Luke 6:27-38; Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42

There’s an awkward moment in the story of Joseph when he reveals himself to his brothers. “But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” In that moment, we see them dealing with their own guilt, uncertain what awaits them now. They had, after all, sold their brother as a slave. When they had first gone to purchase grain in Egypt, Jacob had kept Benjamin, being loath to lose him as well as Joseph. In Genesis 42, the writer tells us that when Joseph had asked them to bring their younger brother, they had turned to each other lamenting that they had sold Joseph into slavery. The guilt they had displayed then was nothing to the dismay of finding that the man who controlled their fate was the brother they had sold.

While few of us have been sold into slavery by our brothers, I suspect most of us have had people do things that hurt us. Every now and then we are in a position to help those people later, and the human impulse is not to do it. Joseph, however, does not seek revenge. instead he treats his brothers with generosity. After the first awkward silence, Joseph suggests that their actions were part of God’s plan, so that he could save them now. And after that, they talked.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Do what Joseph did. Anyone, Jesus reminds us, can be nice to people who are good to them. Loving those who harm you is hard. People sometimes think that because the Gospel talks of love, it’s nice. And while the outcome may be rewarding, it’s difficult. Jesus is asking us to not respond with our first response, but to find a way to respond with generosity of spirit. It’s a lifelong journey.

The psalmist is also thinking about this, and maybe this is the message we need to remember:

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
(Ps. 37:8-9)

It is a life-long journey to learn to leave rage alone. May we always feel God’s presence as we learn to love our enemies.

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