In this incredibly divisive time, many are given the opportunity to speak against those they oppose. Circumstances are fluid, and there never seems to be a lack of opportunity to run down, tear down, throw “gotcha” moments at those we disagree with, or openly revile. Its the nature of political discourse in today’s world. We demonize those who take a different stand from us. We make the other side seem inhuman, incapable of sensitivity or reason. This is what we have devolved to.
When someone who has been bombastic in their rhetoric and have seemingly been uncaring and unfeeling toward those who have suffered, suddenly has been beset by misfortune or ill health, there are those who want to jump in with glee at this turn of events. Of course, there are a great many who will point to any number of scriptures advising how we are to treat those who are enemies or who oppose us.
Often quoted are scriptures like:
Matthew 5: 43-48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Luke 6: 27-36 – “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
Romans 12: 14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
These scriptures do indeed admonish us to not repay our enemies or those who revile us with like treatment. They do lead us to extend kindness and compassion to those we struggle against.
That’s hard, isn’t it? Its hard to not wish evil, or return evil on those who have persecuted or who have done us wrong. How do you even begin to get to the place where its possible to have such a broad and loving heart?
Quoting Jesus as saying these things to us, has the potential to have us question the validity of such actions. In our heads we want to scream at such a preposterous notion of loving or praying for our enemies. They continuously seek our destruction, how can I be told to love them, pray for them, to return their hate with love? That almost makes those who follow this path sound wimpy.
Would you say Jesus was wimpy from the cross, when he said “forgive them for they know not what they do”? Jesus’ heart was bigger than the pain and indignity he suffered. Jesus never lost sight of his main mission, which was to save humanity from their baser selves.
If we follow Jesus, and want to emulate him in our interactions, we too are called to dedicate ourselves to a higher calling of love in the face of hate.
Now, I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying we are capable of this kind of love. What I am saying is we are called to strive for this in all we say and do.
I won’t begin to pretend walking the path of Jesus, following on the Way, as early Christians called it, is an easy thing. Its not. Its hard, its terribly difficult. To have someone actively seeking to demean you, to malign you, to call into question your integrity, your character, your motivations, your sense of right and wrong, and then be told you have to love them in return. How ridiculous! That’s not how this should play out. Its a battle, you return fire when you have the chance, you seek their destruction as surely as they are seeking yours. This is how battles are won!
True enough, battles are won by the strongest and most cunning. Battles are won by those who are willing to do whatever it takes to make their enemies suffer and to defeat them.
But, we’re not talking about battles friends, and neither was Jesus. Jesus was waging an all out war for the souls of all people. In that war the only true victor is the one who holds on to their dignity and integrity, being who they were created to be. We were created in God’s image, and God is love. If we return hate for hate, if we do unto others before they can do unto us, if we pray for the demise of our enemies, we have bought into the very nature of the ones we oppose.
Its hard, incredibly hard to follow Jesus. I suppose this is why Jesus tells us to pick up our cross if we are going to follow him. Friends, in this time of unrest and political upheaval, we have to summon our better selves and pray for our enemies. This doesn’t mean be a doormat and let them walk all over you. Defend your allegiances, give voice to your opposition to the enemy, make a stand on those things you know to be right. But when it comes to the enemy, pray for them. Pray for their hearts to be turned to humility and compassion. Pray for their minds to be freed from the fog of indifference and evil. Pray for their lives to be turned around so they too might experience true love that comes from God.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,