In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say some of the most challenging things we find in all Scriptures. Jesus tells His disciples, and us, to love our enemies; to turn the other cheek; to give to everyone who asks of us, and to not demand back what has been taken, or borrowed from us.
At first, I was wondering how hard it was to give to everyone who asks. How can I afford that? And why would I want to not get back what I lent to someone? I don’t want to lose it!
Thinking about not wanting to lose something brought me back to the commandment to love our enemies. Jesus’ words have been around for literally thousands of years. The Golden Rule which He also states is even older, and yet we have such a hard time following this command from Him. In fact, I think we pretty much say to ourselves (even if we don’t use these words) that it’s impossible and even foolhardy to do, and maybe, in this instance, Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about.
Why is it so difficult? Maybe it has to do with the fear of losing something. What would we lose if we loved our enemies? Could it be that we would lose some justification of the stereotypes that we use to dehumanize those who are opposed to us? Would we lose the right to judge and condemn them? Would we lose the justification to use violence against them or even destroy them before they destroy us? Would we be losing the option to get revenge? Are these the things we can’t let go of? Is the fear of losing these things holding us back from the fullest expression of love?
I think that these words of Jesus indicate that He is calling us to not get caught up in worrying about what we would lose, but to think about what we could gain. If we loved to the extent of loving our enemies, we would gain an ever deeper insight into how much Jesus loves us. We would gain the peace of following God’s will. We would gain the building up of the kingdom, and help bring peace to our world.
To love our enemies does not mean we condone the evil they may do. It does not mean we forego the right to defend ourselves. But to feed the cycle of vengeance and violence is not the answer, no matter how justified we may feel in doing so. To hate the haters does not really get us anywhere, even though it may make us feel good for a while. In some cases, we may even need to examine whether “they” are really our enemies in the first place. To love our enemies is to recognize, as Dr. King was able to do, that God loves them, even though in our eyes they have turned away from God. In our first reading from 1 Samuel, David, although he has the opportunity to do so, does not kill Saul who has been pursuing him. Why? Because, even though Saul’s actions and jealousy have taken him out of favor with God, he is still the “Lord’s anointed.” Our enemies, as evil or misguided as they may be, are still loved by God.
We may say to ourselves, “No, I refuse to believe that God loves my enemies!” But we can’t escape what Jesus says: “But rather love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
To follow Jesus, I need to be willing to lose – to let go of hatred and fear and dehumanizing others; to renounce whatever right I think I have to judge and condemn; to let go of thirsting for vengeance; to forego using violence. What I hope to gain is to grow closer to Him, and abide in His love.
Fr. Phil, CP