Jesus spoke of people in four categories – they are either family, friends, neighbors, or enemies – and he tells us to love them all, including our enemies. Who is your enemy? This is someone who is out to destroy your life or destroy your vocation or reputation… or (more likely) someone who irritates you, who has a way of ruining your day, who is “not helpful to your program.” An enemy. And Jesus says to love our enemies and to forgive them. It’s a very tall order. Several thoughts come to mind.
Jesus tells us to “love our enemies,” notbecause it makes for more pleasant living, though that may be true. Rather, we love our enemies because our enemies can be our teachers, sometimes our best teachers. Our enemies can get us in touch with “our own stuff,” and like no one else can. Those outbursts or eruptions or emotional reactions that rise up in us. Where do they come from? And why are they sometimes so disproportional to the “offense” we have experienced from this other person? Our enemies expose us. They can be extraordinary agents for our own conversion. I’ll call this the “Velcro principle.” When the hooks of someone else’s “Velcro” sticks to our own “Velcro,” there’s something there in us, to look into, to open up, to offer to God. Our enemies can be our teachers.[i] Don’t hate them, love them, Jesus says.
Secondly, Jesus tells us to love our enemies lest we presume that “our” enemies are also God’s enemies. We should not presume that. Myenemies are God’schildren, with a place in God’s heart. And Jesus says bless, don’t curse them. Pray God’s blessing to be upon them.[ii]
Thirdly, enemies remind us of the distinctive identity we have as Christians: we are forgivers. We forgive others as we have been forgiven by God. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, says that “the secret of the Christian is not that we are always in the right and put other people in the right, but that we are forgiven.” That’sthe secret. Archbishop Ramsey says that “the strength of the Church… is the strength of Christ who forgives us, humbles us, and can, therefore, do something with us.”[iii]
Lastly, Jesus tells us to love and forgive our enemies which, for some of us at least some days, needs to begin under our own skin. If the truth be told, we can be our own worst enemies and, as Jesus also said, we love others the way we love ourselves.[iv] For some of us, the love of our enemies needs to begin with our making a truce with ourselves, meeting and accepting ourselves as Christ does: someone deeply understood, eternally loved, in desperate need to be saved… maybe even saved from our own selves.
Our role is to co-operate with God with what God is up to. Where there is an enemy – whether we, ourselves, are the enemy or the enemy is someone else – there is an invitation, not an obstacle.
[i] Several contemporary spiritual and political leaders speak about loving our enemies. See Anthony Sampson’s Mandela: The Authorized Biography; Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness andLiving Buddha, Living Christ; and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Freedom from Fear and Other Writings, and Letters from Burma.
[ii]Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-29. See also Romans 12:14.
[iii]Arthur Michael Ramsey (1904-1988), the 100thArchbishop of Canterbury, quoted from his book, To Be a Priest.
[iv]Jesus tells us to love our enemies as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27). We hear this best descriptively rather than prescriptively, i.e., the way we love ourselves will set the bar for the way we love others.
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