Some of us have heard it so much that its wisdom has been lost by the cliche of it. Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). There are days you might wish he didn’t say that.
In one short verse, this whole teaching confronts all our tribal tendencies, destroys all our “us verses them” ways and pretty much drops a nuke on our selfish ways of life. It’s a powerful and confrontational teaching from one who is often called a pacifist.
Now I”m not sure Jesus would have called himself a pacifist (Yep. And I’m not going to unpack that today either ;), but the teaching of loving all others, including our enemies was a critical piece of his teaching. It all boiled down to loving God and loving the other, with no exceptions.
Again, if we can push past the cliche and let it sink in: Jesus is saying your enemy, your rival, your adversary must experience love. Ridiculous.
We hate all sorts of people over the years: The boss, or the ex-, or the co-worker, the liberal, the fundamentalist, the President, that one, this one, the next one, the media, and the (insert the demographic of choice who you believe is ruining everything. I’d keep mentioning groups but the list is tragically long). We are all guilty of this.
In our honest moments, many of us might admit to enjoying the fact of having an enemy; someone to cast our anger on, someone to take the blame for our faults or the faults of the world, someone to hate. We have plenty of language for this – the “scapegoating,” or the idea of “projecting.” It can be cathartic and even without the fancy words, our enemies not only serve the role of villain but they fulfill our need to the hero or the protagonist of our story.
What would happen if you had to stop hating this person or this set of people?
I actually have one anecdotal possibility that I often think about on that. Years ago, a man’s father passed away. I gave my condolences and immediately the man said, “It’s ok” and said his dad was a set of expletives that I’ll avoid mentioning here. I didn’t know if it was the emotion of the moment or something else but eventually he said something like, “The worst part of this is he was so easy for me to hate. Now that he’s gone, I don’t know who or what to hate anymore. Everything was his fault and now that he’s dead, he’s taking this away from me too.”
But this scene plays out in my mind as quite extraordinary. I was saddened on all sorts of levels. He and his dad never resolved their issues. And now it was too late. Further, the expressed regret of his father’s death was that he could no longer be hated. I was saddened by what his father did to him and what the man did back to his father. My friend felt even worse when he lost his most hated person in life.
Now I know it’s more complicated than that but I was even more saddened that this was not an isolated moment but a cycle and a pattern played out in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons by all of us. Is there hate hidden and afixed in each of our souls? Can we fulfill Jesus’ words of loving the enemy?
In the context of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was probably referencing the occupying Romans, but it carried on to anyone that has oppressed us or hurt us or our loved ones. And Jesus calls us to love them.
We’ve been thinking about the notion of Christ’s peace this Advent which bring up the obvious question:
Is it really peace if my enemy does not experience my peace?
Which brings up these other questions. Does this mean we extend peace to our enemies and what does that actually look like? Are we really just supposed to forget about what makes them our enemy and just get over it?
The first step seems to confront our hatred toward our enemy and seek how to apply Jesus’ words of loving our enemy. This does not mean just let the past be the past or just get over it or even remove our appropriate boundaries from abusers. Loving the enemy and extending peace to them does not remove the need for justice and perhaps appropriate punishment. Jesus is not unjust or dense. I think he and his teachings are even more profound than we can often appreciate.
This first step of confronting our hatred ought to force us to do things. First to recognize why we want to call them our enemy and two, pray for the power to see them in a different way. A way that eventually leads to love. Which could be a miracle and Jesus maybe trying to show you and me something just like that.
Another post being drafted continuing this ridiculous notion of showing love and peace to our enemies coming soon. Thanks for reading.