In both the Epistle (2 Cor. 6:16-7:1) and Gospel readings (Lk. 6:31-36) today, we hear about becoming sons of God.
In Scripture, you are the son of the one you serve, whose works you do, whose life you take on as your own. The Jews are not sons of Abraham simply by blood, but only if they do the works of Abraham. Meanwhile, Christ also warns them that they are, in fact, sons of their father the devil, for they do his works (Jn. 8:30-44).
Thus, St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle reading that if we desire to be sons of God, we must separate ourselves from idols and all unclean things, and because we have the promise of Divine adoption, we must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).
In the Gospel reading, we see that becoming sons of God demands of us that we exceed the good works of sinners. Of course, we are all sinners, but beginning with our Baptism, we no longer have to be. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye?... But love ye your enemies … and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High (Lk. 6:32, 35).
The two greatest commandments—to love God with your entire being, and to love your neighbor—were already present in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18), but Christ gives these commandments new depth and breadth, revealing that, in fact, all of mankind is our neighbor—even our enemy is our neighbor. And if we love an enemy, he by definition ceases to be an enemy. Let him think of us what he will, but what good is it to us if we love only as sinners do?
Christ also gives a new commandment that further explains what it means to love: that we love one another as He has loved us (Jn. 13:34). And He loved us by ascending the Cross.
So we too are called to love all of mankind, including our enemies, with self-sacrificial love—by making Christ’s love our own, we become sons of God.
It could be said that for St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, love of enemies is the quintessence of Christian morality. “I continuously beg the Lord to give me the love of enemies… Day and night I ask the Lord for this love. The Lord gives me tears and I weep for the whole world,” he emphasizes.
And, unsurprisingly, he connects this with humility: “If you have compassion for all creatures and love your enemies, and if, at the same time, you judge yourself the worst of all people, this shows that the great grace of the Lord is in you.”
Loving your enemies requires humility, and is humility. It means you crush your self-interest and learn to see others as Christ sees them. Christ’s love is unconditional. Even on the Cross He prayed for those who were crucifying Him.
Today’s Gospel reading comes not long after the Beatitudes and Woes in the Gospel of Luke, where Christ says: Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in Heaven (Lk. 6:22-23).
The Beatitudes are Christ’s self-portrait, given for us to understand not simply what to do and what not do, but how to be and how not to be—what it means to be sons of God. Thus, Christ shows us how to love our enemies. They may hate us and revile us and persecute us, but thank God for them! Their hatred offers us a great reward in Heaven.
Christ promises us a great reward twice in Luke 6: if we rejoice in the face of persecution, and if we love our enemies—because these are the same thing.
In Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, we are told that it is the peacemakers who shall become sons of God, and who has more peace than he who thanks God for his enemies?
Today’s Gospel reading concludes: Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:36)—again, to be sons of God means to do the works of God, to be like God.
In the Father’s great mercy, He offers His Son, and in the Son’s great mercy, He ascends the Cross for all of mankind, even asking that the Father show His mercy to those who betrayed Him and nailed Him to the Cross. Because of His great humility, none are truly His enemies—His love and mercy reach to all.
We must love God and love our neighbor, and our neighbor is everyone, including our enemy; and love for our enemy is humble, self-sacrificial, and merciful. When our love is so devoid of self-interest that we even thank God for the evil our enemy inflicts upon us, we will have peace in our hearts; and Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God (Mt. 5:9)