“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
To borrow from one of Jesus’ questioners at another point in the story, we might be prompted to ask, “and who is our enemy?”, moreover, “what definition of ‘enemy’ will inconvenience my lifestyle the least?” Like the expert in the law in Luke 10, we want to justify ourselves as already on the righteous path.
Jesus doesn’t let us off that easy.
I would like to propose that in the kingdom of heaven anyone, who by their very existence, causes you to question your identity is your Enemy. They may outright attack your integrity, or they may cause you to squirm simply by their proximity, but either way, you are not comfortable. Accepting this definition of Enemy opens us up to a wide range of possibilities in discovering our true nature as kingdom people; Jesus tends to use those who are most threatening to our self-preservation to grow us.
This has profound implications for our modern era in which our ideologies become our identities. Among the many dangers of our modern political climate we find that a) we feel pressure to have an answer for absolutely everything life throws at us almost immediately in order to feel safe, and b) what we believe defines who we are. It is near impossible to over-emphasize the innate human desire for belonging, especially in the name of finding security in a chaotic world. The ever-changing social and political landscape forces us back into tribal mentalities in which we champion “us” at the expense of “them”, to the point at which “their” ideas are a threat to who “we” are. We are incapable of civil dialogue and engagement with differing ideas, because to do so is to challenge the core of our identity. The natural response is to lash out at those with whom we disagree or attempt to erase them from our personal narratives.
Perhaps “loving our enemies” causes us to hold what we believe a bit more loosely, so we might better prioritize human value in the eyes of God. Entering into this sacred practice challenges us to put aside what we believe and choose to enter into a deeper reality that maps out a path forward for our species, together.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Love your enemies, and pray for those you offend you.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who inconvenience you.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who make you feel uncomfortable.
Love your enemies, and pray for those with whom you don’t agree.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who you don’t acknowledge because their presence is bothersome.
Love your enemies, and pray for those to whom you are indifferent.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. How have you traditionally defined who your “enemy” is?
Q2. By using the definition here, that your enemy is anyone who causes you to question your identity, who do you immediately think of? What categories of people do you think of?
Q3. How can you practically engage with those with whom you disagree in a way that you are still loving them well?