Our Greatest Call: To Love Our Enemies
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Christian minister of Jewish descent, wrote the bestselling book, Tortured for Christ, which has been turned into a movie. In it, he shared this story about an encounter with a horrible enemy:
One day, a soldier who had been fighting for the Nazis came back from the front and was boasting, “In the concentration camp where I worked, I killed many Jews, even Jews with children in their arms.” He was glad to tell anyone who would listen.
When he met Richard Wurmbrand, the man thought he met a German because of his last name. Pastor Wurmbrand, however, was actually of Jewish heritage, a Jew who had become a Christian. So Wurmbrand invited the soldier to his home for dinner. The soldier loved music, and when Pastor Wurmbrand told him he would play the piano for him, the man gladly accepted the invitation.
The soldier arrived one evening when some other believers were present, but Wurmbrand’s wife, Sabina, was feeling ill and stayed in her room. The pastor played the piano for all of them, and they had a wonderful evening together enjoying the music. After that, they had a long discussion into the night, further enjoying one another’s company.
As it grew late, Pastor Wurmbrand turned to the soldier and said, “Sir, I have to tell you something, but you must promise me that you will listen without interruption for ten minutes. After that, you can say whatever you like.” The man smiled broadly from all that he had enjoyed and agreed.
“In the other room,” the pastor began, “my wife is sleeping. She is Jewish and I am Jewish too. Her family perished in the big Nazi concentration camp where you boasted that you killed Jews with children still in their arms. So, you are presumably the very murderer of my family. Now, I propose an experiment. We will pass into the other room and I will tell my wife who you are. I can assure you my wife will not speak one word of reproach to you, nor will she look angrily at you, but will smile at you as an honored guest. She will go and prepare coffee and cookies for you. You will be received just like everyone else. Now, if my wife, who is only human, can do this, if she can love you like this, knowing what you have done, and she can even forgive you, then how much more does Jesus, who is Love Incarnate, love you and will forgive you?”
The man began to tear at his jacket. “What have I done? What have I done? I am guilty of so much blood!”
Pastor Wurmbrand gentled spoke to him, “Well then, let’s kneel down and ask God for forgiveness.” They knelt. First Pastor Wurmbrand said a short prayer, followed by the man, who didn’t know how to pray, and they asked Christ to forgive him. There were many tears, and then they embraced one another.
“I have promised you an experiment. Now we will go to see my wife.” His wife, Sabina, had heard nothing while sleeping in the other room. They went to her and Pastor Wurmbrand awoke her. “Do you know this man?” the husband asked his wife. “No,” she replied sleepily. He proceeded to introduce the man. “This is the murder of your sisters, your brothers, and your parents. But now he has repented and he is our brother in the Messiah, our brother in faith. What do you have to say to him?”
And Sabina got out of bed and embraced him, and they both wept together.
Jesus teaches us in his famous Sermon on the Plain “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-30)
Wow! What an incredibly hard, and seemingly impossible mission Christ gives to each one of us. And yet, what we see with Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, it is possible!
Christ warns us that if we love only people who love us, that’s no big deal. If we do good to only those who treat us well, again, that’s nothing special. To follow Jesus means to be extremely different, to act radically with divine love, to live in a way than many people in the world won’t understand!!! What marks a true follower of Christ is precisely the fact that we are so filled with HIS SPIRIT OF LOVE and MERCY and KINDNESS that we can love even our worst enemies, do good even to those who have treated us miserably, bless those who curse us, and give to others, without expecting anything in return!
Jesus concludes these powerful and challenging words, by summarizing his call this way: “Be merciful to others, just as your father in heaven is merciful to you!”
Is this possible? How can we love those who have hurt us deeply, those we consider our enemies, those who may seem so different from ourselves? How is it possible to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, to turn the other cheek and to even give without expecting anything in return?
It’s only possible when we are so filled with God’s grace and love, that His love overflows from within us. It’s possible when we purify ourselves from our own egocentric passions and create space for God’s Spirit to live in us!
St. John Cassian says, “When someone has no compassion for another’s transgressions, but pronounces a severe judgment on them, it is an obvious sign of a soul not yet purified of evil passions.” The opposite is also true, we won’t judge others but will simply love them when we have purified our hearts from evil passions and allow God’s grace to live in us.
Yes, these words seem extremely difficult and seemingly impossible. Yet, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina exemplify this purity of heart filled with God’s love. They offer an example that reveals it is possible to love others, even our worst enemies, in a divine way.