The Sunday after All Saints’ Day, Year C, All Saints’ Church, Smyrna

“I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:27-28).

The Feast of All Saints’ got its start as a celebration of the martyrs of the early church, a commemoration of the many people put to death in the persecutions under the Roman Empire. So many people were executed in so many places that there weren’t enough days in the calendar to remember each separately, so all the rest, known and unknown, were remembered on All Saints’ Day.

We think about saints in many different ways today: people known for various good works, great teachers of the faith, hardworking pastors and preachers. We think of saints in terms of miracles performed, or holiness of life. In the beginning, however, the saints were just those who had been persecuted and then put to death. Being a saint wasn’t about the good works you had done, but about the evil you had endured.

That’s why our Gospel reading today has been chosen for the Sunday after All Saints’ Day. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man” (Lk. 6:22). The reading recalls the origin of the Feast, and reminds us of the time of trial in which Christians were persecuted. Jesus’ followers put their faith in him, and their faith was tested. They believed that Jesus, not the Roman Emperor, was their king. The emperors of Rome did not want to permit any other authority above their own, so Christians were hated and excluded, reviled and defamed. They knew, however, that God would bless them if they continued to give their love and loyalty to Jesus Christ himself.

The end of our Gospel shows us another way to live. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:27-28). Faced with hatred, Christians respond with love. If people curse them, Christians respond with a blessing. They pray for those who persecute and abuse them. They never return evil for evil, but give a better gift than the treatment they receive. This is a difficult way to live: much easier to respond to hatred with more hatred! Jesus teaches us a different way.

Jesus is teaching the disciples, but the crowd gathered around him also listens in. We’re included as well; this morning we’re listening in just like the crowd. So often Jesus tells his listeners that they have to listen closely to understand the real meaning of what he’s saying. It’s not enough to just hear the words. “Let anyone with ears to hear listen” (Lk. 8:8), Jesus tells the crowd a little bit later in the Gospel, not because he’s worried that people won’t hear him but because he’s worried that they won’t believe him. “I say to you that listen,” (Lk. 6:17) he says in our Gospel today. Listening is about more than hearing, but about hearing and doing.

The question for us is: are we listening with eager ears? Are we ready to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us? The times in which we live in are full of hatred and curses, of enemies set against other enemies. A lot of people hate their neighbors, not to mention their enemies. Jesus calls us to live a different way. He calls us to live like the martyrs of old, Christians who blessed those who persecuted them.            

Today we celebrate Holy Baptism and Confirmation. People are promising to follow Jesus. We remember what being a disciple is all about. We give up the old life and take up the new life. We put our faith in God. God blesses us and makes us Jesus’ brothers and sisters. In these sacraments he gives us grace, his power and presence in our lives.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee