Let’s hop in the way back machine, or TARDIS if you prefer, and head all the way back a couple of weeks to February 19, 2017. So long ago, I know. The lectionary reading for that Sunday had quoted Jesus as saying:
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
This is from Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV).
Here’s a few really practical questions – what in the world does Jesus mean by this? And what would it look like to actually live this out?
First, let’s just cut to the chase – we’re all guilty of not following this. In some sense, it’s impossible for us mere mortals to follow this. We all have enemies, whether we want to admit it or not. Jesus isn’t dismissing this fact. What’s he’s saying here is about how we treat our enemies. Do we treat them like enemies, or do we treat them differently?
When I read this, I see Jesus saying that we are to treat our enemies with love. That’s not easy. In fact, it sucks! Royally! What fun is having an enemy if we can’t blame them for everything bad in the world? Who are we supposed to demean and dehumanize? Who are we supposed to call names to? Who are we supposed to direct our irrational rage and anger at?
Maybe Jesus is getting us to see our enemy different for a reason. Yes, to force us to deal with the fact that we are called to be peacemakers. But there is more. Maybe to examine what it is that makes our enemy an enemy. Maybe if we did that we’d see something really ugly – a piece of ourselves that we really don’t like. Maybe that’s part of what makes our enemies an enemy.
When Jesus calls on us to love our enemy, maybe it’s more than just faking it until we make it. Maybe it’s Jesus putting a mirror in front of our face and saying “look.” Look and see what you don’t like about this enemy. We’re probably projecting a crap load of bad stuff on them, and judging them. We personify the bad crap into someone else and then blame them for this. Maybe Jesus saying to love our enemy is about seeing the person for who they really are, and detaching all the crap that we project and assume on them.
So the second question is how do we actually live this command out? It depends on context – you and your enemy. The idea is that this won’t be easy or short. It’s a long-term commitment. I think it starts with praying for our enemies and what we do and say will grow out of that. But the point is that there is movement in the direction of love towards another person. And in the process, there is love of self and God. But really, it starts with love of God. When we start with God as the foundation, then our wants and focus changes. How we see others start to change. We’re not looking for perfection here – ain’t gonna happen.
Instead, we are responding to something else – God changing our status from an enemy of God, to a child of God. And you know what – so is that person we call an enemy.
I don’t think Jesus is calling on us to make our enemies into best buds. I think the point is that we aren’t harboring ill will against someone else, we place them in God’s hands, and we treat them with the human dignity they deserve – they too are children of God.