7th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
So how do you love your enemy? Well first you have to define the terms. Love in “Love your enemies” is clearly a verb. You won’t get noun love with your enemies – that sense of comfort, trust and delight we have with our loved ones. Our enemies are not going to suddenly appear on our Christmas cards. [Here are the kids, the dogs, and my greatest enemy.] I believe what Jesus is calling us to is to apply the principles we use in loving one another even to our enemy. A good, classical definition of love is to “will and do good for someone.” Love is s decision. It is what we do every day. It is what we decide to do after our parents have been completely unreasonable; when someone is aloof and distant. We renew our decision to love.
Fascinatingly, we kind of do the same thing when we hate our enemy. We make a decision. We draw a circle of all those things that we treasure in relationships – peace, harmony and hope and keep our enemy on the outside and decide they are unworthy of any of this from us. Indeed, to hate is as intentional decision as to love. Hatred and love are not the opposite ends of a line, but they are part of a circle that begins with love and comes around again to hate. And that which joins them together is intentionality and intimacy.
The first step in loving your enemy is to admit they are a real person. When you fall in love there is often a period of infatuation, when we idealize our vision of that person. Then we might date them, get to know them, marry them and we no longer have that perfect idea. And that is better because we end up of loving a real person. When we hate our enemy, we choose something not real. We objectify them and make our enemy not a “he” or a “she” but an “it.” Even our language betrays this when we say that person is a “monster” or someone is “nothing to me.” We have given ourselves permission to not treat them as we would other human beings. We no longer owe them our respect and their dignity. But there is a flaw in the plan. That is not how God sees them. Yes, even our enemies are loved and created by God who looks over them and cares for their welfare. And it is our duty and privilege to see them the same way even if it cracks our hostility.
The second key is context. Everyone has a story. For our loved ones those stories are precious to us; we honor them. We know their stories so well that we make excuse for the ones we love. “You gotta understand:” it is because of where they come from or what happened earlier. But we deny a narrative to our enemies. We invent a caricature of them that boils down to the way they hurt us. A moment frozen in time and in our mind. But we would never want to be remembered for only our worst action or our worst thought. Our enemies have a story, something that pushed them in a direction. We will likely discover their offense comes from a place of pain or loss. We know this, for when we hurt others it comes from our pain and our loss. If we allow our enemies to have a story, it will not justify their actions, but we can begin to understand them. Then something new happens – sympathy. I will prove it to you. If you are thinking of someone right now, would you rather be them? I thought not. And suddenly, our enemy, who was nothing but a red hot blur to us, takes on a face, a reality, a life.
Finally, we can take back our power when we love our enemy. We believe we were put on this planet to befriend and love; not to make enemies or hate. Yet, when we make the decision to hate our enemy, we choose to live the opposite of our purpose. We live beneath our promise. We give our enemy the power to make us less than we are. And it takes up energy and space in our minds and in our hearts for we do not casually hate and there are not casual enemies. They are deeply embedded in our marrow. But if we can find a way to compassion, mercy and hope for our enemies, if we can push to forgiveness one day, then we will be free from the burden of our hate; free to be who God created us to be.
Jesus did not just say “Love your enemies,” he actually loved them. When they came to arrest him and a disciple saw in one of the soldiers, the embodiment of all who were coming to crush Jesus and he cut off his ear. But Jesus saw the person, not the symbol and healed him. Women kept showing up who were to represent the enemy – a sinful woman, a woman caught in adultery, a woman at the well who had been married five times, but Jesus knew their stories and loved them for it. And when he was dying on the cross, he proclaimed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” turning an instrument of hate into the universal sign of love. We can turn the world upside down as well if we follow Jesus’ most challenging commandment and love our enemies.