Loving our enemies means, first and foremost, accepting the fact that God loves us. We can’t love anyone else until we know what it’s like to be loved not because of our virtues but in spite of our vices. Loving our enemy means loving our harshest critic, doing good to the one who thinks we are bad, and praying for the one who knows best how to abuse us. In other words, it means loving ourselves. We are our own worst enemy until God loves us into being our own best friend.
That makes me think that we should turn our Bible story around in our heads and give it a fresh interpretation. I was reading in the Merc this week about the volunteers who are hoping to catch steelhead trout and chinook salmon in Alameda Creek this winter. They are catching them at the Bart Weir in Fremont, a concrete barrier that the fish cannot get around. So people catch them, tag them and release them upstream where they can spawn. Meanwhile, many government agencies and nonprofits are working on removing or building fish ladders around all the barriers in the creek so that one day the fish can swim freely on their own. Reading that article, it dawned on me that the best metaphor for making disciples in the Bay Area these days is not catching fish but hatching them. We need to think about churches as hatcheries where disciples are raised and then released. We need to consider that we aren’t here to keep them contained in our churches. Instead, one of our biggest jobs is removing the barriers so that these disciples can swim out into the world on their own, into the ocean of God’s love, where they will make a life for themselves by making a difference for others.
One of the things that happens when Jesus comes into our lives is that he exposes the littleness of our love. And he blows up the boundaries we try to put on God’s grace. Like the folk in Nazareth, we get into trouble when we try to limit Jesus to doing miracles only in our town, for our folk. We beg him to come and change our situation and don’t realize that he’s come to change us. Rev. William Barber has a warning for us. My former classmate at Duke says, “Don’t mess around with God, because he’ll grow you. Don’t mess around with the Holy Ghost cause It’ll stretch you. If you want to stay comfortable, if you want to stay where you are…leave Jesus alone.”