Love is Not a Two-Way Street

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost / Second Sunday of Luke, October 1, 2017
II Corinthians 6:16b-18, 7:1; Luke 6:31-36
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Most ethical philosophy is ultimately about fairness and can roughly be resolved into the so-called “Golden Rule,” to treat others as you would like to be treated, which easily includes leaving someone else alone if you would prefer that he leaves you alone. And we hear something like the Golden Rule in today’s Gospel from Luke 6: “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

However, in this original, full version of the Golden Rule, Jesus Christ goes on to give an ethic that is superior to all other ethics, and it takes only three words to say it: “Love your enemies.” With this, Christians are given an ethic that is above all other ethics.

“Love your enemies” is not about fairness, and it even goes above whatever version of the Golden Rule most people might subscribe to. “Love your enemies” is not about fair play, and it’s not even about fighting honorable battles against our enemies. “Love your enemies” breaks all our ethical rules.

This is a hard ethic! We generally do not want to love our enemies. We don’t want to be even polite to our enemies. They don’t deserve it. Respect has to be earned! (Never mind that that slogan suggests that our default behavior is disrespect.)

But this is what Jesus said. We can’t write it off as unrealistic altruistic idealism. This is a command from Jesus Christ, the God-man, the Savior of the world. He is our Lord. So that means we have to do this. We actually have to be not just polite to our enemies and not just refrain from hurting them and taking revenge.

We actually have to love them, which means being self-sacrificial. It means doing good to them. It means caring for them. It means praying for them. It means humbling ourselves and putting their needs in front of our own.

Love is an action, and this is the act we have to do for our enemies. We don’t have to feel love for our enemies. God is not asking us to have a certain emotion about them. But He is telling us to act a certain way when it comes to them. And that act is love, which is about self-sacrifice. It is about humility.

Okay, now let’s complicate this a little.

When we hear this ethic from Jesus, that we should love our enemies, we may think about it in terms of how we treat the people who actively oppose us, the people we don’t like, etc. In other words, we think about our “enemy” list.

But in a broader sense, our “enemy” is really anyone who is not giving us back what we feel we deserve when we are kind to them. In this sense, we may have “enemies” in our own circles—perhaps our husband or wife or our children or our friends or our co-workers or classmates. When we are kind, we expect them to be grateful. We expect them to return the favor. And when they don’t, well, we feel justified in backing off on the love.

This is how it works, right? Family is a two-way street. Friendship is a two-way street.

Well, actually, it’s not how it works. Of course, it all works best when everyone involved in a relationship is loving each other. But there is nowhere in this ethical teaching of Jesus where we are allowed to make our love dependent on how the other person loves us in return.

In fact, He explicitly says that that’s not okay, remember? Jesus says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Love is not a two-way street. It’s one person sacrificing himself for another, no matter what that other person does in return.

If we look at our hearts closely, we will have to admit that we tend to expect love to be a two-way street. We may even be addicted to getting something in return.

How do we know if we are addicted? Do you have resentment toward someone? If so, you are probably addicted to getting something in return. Do you have a sense that someone else is ungrateful for what you do? You are probably addicted. Do you feel rebuffed when you put yourself out there? You are probably addicted.

This is a deep addiction, and it is very hard to break. But this is exactly the addiction that Jesus is telling us to break when He says “Love your enemies,” especially when He expands on that command, explaining that that means doing good and giving while expecting nothing in return.

So how do we break that addiction? How do we get over the fact that we just love to be loved? How do we get over our need to have others treat us as we desire?

The key is in what Jesus says right after “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” What’s next? He says this: “…and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

We are to love expecting nothing in return, because our reward from God will be great. Does that mean we’re going to get a big pay-off or something? Mansions, nice clothes, great food? Flashy car? Don’t think so small. He tells us what the reward is: “You will be sons of the Most High.”

Our loving others while expecting nothing at all in return—including loving those in our own houses and our own friendships and our own churches and our own workplaces and our own classrooms, etc.—this is about becoming the children of God. It is about entering into God’s family, about intimacy with Him, about being His true sons and heirs.

And if we’re going to be part of His family, we have to act like Him. That’s why Jesus says, “for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Sons of the Most High have to resemble their Father. If we want to be part of His household, then we have to behave in a way worthy of that adoption.

So how do we break the addiction, then? How do we break the addiction to wanting other people’s love as a condition of giving our own?

We do it by remembering that our love is not really about that other person. Our love is about our goal of becoming sons of the Most High. Our love is about becoming like our Father, Who is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Our love is about being merciful as our Father is merciful.

He is the One Whom we are serving. He is the One Whose response to our love matters. And He always responds. He never holds back.

Other people are not responsible for making you happy or keeping you happy. They are given to you by God as a gift, an opportunity to show the love that asks nothing in return.

So when you’re trying to love your wife or love your husband or your children or your friends or co-workers or classmates or even that person you would really just rather never be around, keep this in mind: The love that I’m giving is about God. It’s not about anything I can get from that other person. It’s about being sons of the Most High God.

To Him Who loves without expectation be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. A very important teaching in this modern age when the culture equates ‘being nice’ – that is, enlightened self-interest – with Love – the sacrificial Love of Christ.

  2. Father, this was a terrific podcast. You finally started to address the question I asked you earlier this year, or maybe last year, on love. A book, ” Addiction and Grace,” touches a similar approach. I also love your new format of the podcast. So my question still remains Other than the love of God, do we need love? If the answer is no, we don’t need to be loved by anyone else, since God loves us, how do we react to a spouse that doesn’t love us? We need to love our spouse. We need to loved by God. We need to love our neighbor. But it seems to me that we don’t need these people to love us in eturn, since we are loved by God. Needing to be loved by people is an addiction in a way. What say you, father?

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